Monday, 22 February 2021
Family Law Amendment (A Step Towards a Safer Family Law System) Bill 2020; Second Reading
The Family Law Amendment (A Step Towards a Safer Family Law System) Bill 2020 makes amendments to the Family Law Act, with the purpose of making our legal system safer for women and their children. It implements recommendations from a series of reports into family violence, the 2009 report by the Family Law Council, a 2017 report by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs and a 2019 report by the Australian Law Reform Commission. These reports offered a collective 106 recommendations. Based on their advice, this bill repeals section 61DA of the act to kill the misconception that equal shared parental responsibility means that children automatically spend equal time with each parent. This is a false expectation and can lead to parents accepting shared custody in unsafe situations because they think they have no other choice. The bill also repeals section 65 DAA of the act, which requires the court to consider, in certain circumstances, the possibility of the child spending equal time or substantial time with each parent.
Obviously, wherever it is possible, children benefit from close and loving relationships with both parents. As parents we know that. In most situations, even after a family has separated, the vast majority of families sort that out amongst themselves. They sort out when the children will be spending time with each parent and they sort out arrangements around child support. In most situations, I think most parents go out of their way to try to resolve these issues collaboratively and in the best interests of children.
But we know, that where domestic violence has already been present in the relationship, this is a period where that violence can intensify, and the family law system can often be weaponised during such times. So that assumption that children will automatically spend equal time with each parent has to be challenged if one parent is violent either to the other parent or to the children in the family. The misconception that children should, by default, spend equal time with both parents dramatically increases the risk of continuing violence where this has been a feature in relationships.
As the member for Moreton said when he introduced this very important bill, these changes won't fix everything wrong in the family law system but they will offer a step in the right direction. This bill was first introduced after the horrific murder of Hannah Clarke and her beautiful children. That terrible anniversary was a year ago just last week. Hannah and her three children, Aaliyah, Laianah and Trey, were killed by her estranged partner in an act of unspeakable violence. The truth is that, for Hannah Clarke, the warning signs were there for years. The abuse of Hannah Clarke was insidious. She said to her friends and her family more than once that, while her husband was not usually physically violent towards her, he controlled every element of her life. He listened to her phone calls, he read her messages and he stalked her on social media.
The culmination of this terror shook us all, but it's terribly sad to say that it has not created lasting change in many respects. It did not produce any of the reforms that were promised it would produce. I don't doubt the sincerity of the words that have been spoken or the outpouring of grief, but, to be really blunt, we don't need words and we don't need grief. What we need is action. This is what frustrates so many of us about domestic violence. We hear these horrific stories of victims of domestic violence, like Hannah Clarke and her three children, like Luke Batty, like Olga Edwards and her two children or the killing of the Davidson family in 2016, or the killing of Tara Costigan here in Canberra in 2015. I would run out of time if I even began to mention all of these horrific murders. They are horrendous and the list is too, too long. We hear these stories again and again and we have a vigil at the front of parliament but, when we are given the chance to make life safer for the victims of this sort of domestic terrorism, we fail them again and again or, worse, we make life less safe by doing something as shameful and destructive as abolishing the Family Court.
The reports and the enquiries are sitting there. There are three cited in this bill. There is also the Victorian royal commission into family violence and Quentin Bryce's task force in Queensland. The work has being done. We just need the will to implement it. This is a good-faith attempt to do so.