Tuesday, 21 August 2018
Family Law Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill 2018; Second Reading
I present the explanatory memorandum to this bill, and I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
Family violence and child abuse are unacceptable and require a strong legislative response. The Family Law Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill 2018 will enhance the capacity of the justice system to provide effective outcomes for vulnerable Australians who are experiencing family violence. In particular, the bill will strengthen the powers of courts to protect victims of family violence, and facilitate the resolution of family law matters by state and territory courts in appropriate cases.
The Commonwealth, states and territories have made shared commitments under the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022, which sets an ambitious agenda for addressing the scourge of family violence affecting many Australians. Under action 5.1 of the Third Action Plan of the national plan, governments have agreed to implement supported recommendations of the Family Law Council's 2015 and 2016 reports on families with complex needs and the intersection of the family law and child protection systems. The bill implements four of those recommendations.
The bill also responds directly to calls for reform from Victoria's 2016 Royal Commission into Family Violence, the Australian and New South Wales Law Reform Commissions' 2010 report, Family violence—a national legal response, and the Victorian state coroner's 2015 findings of the inquest into the death of Luke Geoffrey Batty. This bill demonstrates the seriousness with which the government has taken the findings of these inquiries, and its commitment to improving how the federal, state and territory justice systems help vulnerable families.
The bill will reduce the need for families to interact with multiple courts across these systems to address their legal needs.
Currently, families are often required to navigate state or territory magistrates' courts and children's courts, and the federal family law courts. Understandably, this can cause confusion, delay and prolonged exposure to risks of violence, particularly for families with complex needs such as family violence, mental health and substance abuse issues.
State and territory magistrates' courts already have a range of powers to make, vary and suspend family law orders under the Family Law Act. However, they don't always do this and, when they do, it can result in inconsistent state and federal orders. This can create uncertainty and also increase risk for families.
The bill will also provide for an increased total property value, under which state magistrates' courts can hear contested family law property matters without both parties' consent. The current property value of $20,000 has not been updated since 1988. The bill will allow a higher value to be prescribed in regulations, with the flexibility of prescribing different values for different states and territories.
Increasing this value will reduce the cost, pressure and risk for vulnerable families who are dealing with legal matters across multiple courts. State and territory magistrates' courts exercising limited property and parenting jurisdiction will enable vulnerable victims of family violence to achieve some measure of economic independence without having to initiate separate proceedings in a family law court. This can accelerate their recovery process by facilitating earlier financial stability.
The bill will allow relevant state and territory courts, such as children's courts, to be prescribed so that they can exercise family law parenting jurisdiction. This will provide children's court judicial officers with additional tools to make orders that support the best interests of children.
Family law orders will be a useful tool for the children's court, where they can provide greater certainty to children and their carers. For example, where a matter is already before the children's court a family law parenting order may give a protective carer, such as a grandparent, greater certainty about ongoing care arrangements for a child. It will also negate the need to institute future proceedings in a family law court.
The government does not intend that state and territory courts become the primary fora for resolving family law disputes. The amendments in this bill are designed to give state and territory courts greater flexibility to hear family law matters where parties are already appearing for a related state or territory proceeding. State and territory courts will retain their existing powers to transfer proceedings to the federal family law courts in the circumstances provided for in the act.
To support this bill, the Australian government has funded the National Judicial College of Australia to deliver training to state and territory judicial officers about family law parenting and property matters.
The government has delayed introducing criminal offences for breaches of family law injunctions made for personal protection.
This government takes the safety of family violence victims seriously, and remains committed to the policy intention of the proposed offences.
However, in order to progress passage of the remaining measures in the bill to deliver effective outcomes for Australian families experiencing family violence, the government has removed this measure.
The bill will further improve the efficacy and protective function of the Family Law Act by ensuring that judges exercising family law jurisdiction do so expeditiously, and that the information children receive from a court is appropriate and would not expose them to further details of family violence. The bill includes measures to avoid inconsistencies between family violence orders and family law orders, which can lead to confusion and increased risk for victims. It will also strengthen and codify the power of the family law courts to dismiss unmeritorious cases and proceedings that are frivolous, vexatious or an abuse of process.
The bill will improve the justice system's capacity to produce timely and effective resolutions to matters involving family violence. It will respond directly to expert recommendations to address the needs of vulnerable families and support more effective interaction between family law and the state and territory family violence and child protection systems. The measures in this bill exemplify the government's commitment to ensuring that the family law system will protect victims of family violence and hold perpetrators accountable.