Monday, 30 November 2020
Family Law Amendment (A Step Towards a Safer Family Law System) Bill 2020; Second Reading
I'm pleased to speak on the Family Law Amendment (A Step Towards a Safer Family Law System) Bill 2020, and I thank the member for Moreton for moving this private member's bill, although I will say that I probably spent more time preparing for this five-minute speech on this subject than I have on any other bill in the last 16 years that I've been in this place. I found it extremely difficult to get my thoughts in order on what is an extremely emotional and complex area for so many people and which affects families and children for the rest of their lives if we get it wrong.
The bill does something which is incredibly important but not as significant as it sounds. It repeals two sections of the Family Law Act which provide the presumption of equal shared parental responsibility. The perception in the community is that equal shared parental responsibility means equal time, but in law it doesn't. What the member for Moreton is doing in this private member's bill is taking away the misconception that parents will automatically get shared responsibility for and shared time with their children, because that is not the case.
If we were working in a world where the Family Court was operating at its maximum possibility, perhaps this wouldn't be such a big issue; but to leave that misconception in place when the Family Court, because of a lack of resources, is so overstretched that the delay in decisions is now up to four years—and during that time this misconception sits there, and people agree to parenting relationships which perhaps they otherwise wouldn't—is quite serious, particularly when you realise that so many of those relationships involve children who will be subject to violence and sexual abuse. We are talking about that today; we are talking about changing the law so that, when the court decides that equal shared responsibility will not be given, the court's decision is made entirely in the interests of the child. I can't stress enough the importance of that.
Again, we have, in many ways, a number of conflicting priorities. Firstly, for me, if we were to start again with the world at the moment, we would want a world where men were far more involved in the raising of their children. We'd want a world not only where women could choose what they do with their lives, after fighting for it for quite a few decades, but where men had more flexibility to choose to stay at home. We would have a world where half the children of the world would be raised in those first years by men and half would be raised by women. Imagine how that would change the perceptions of men and women by our children, and the understandings of what they could do as adults. This would be quite a different world, and if I could create that world that's where I would go. Any policy that we work through—whether it's about work-life balance or industrial relations or family law—needs to keep at the forefront the need to increase the flexibility for both men and women to choose the relationships they have with their children and how they parent. We're nowhere near that yet.
When I look at this, it crosses my mind that we don't want to do anything in the family law world that might cause people to think that men aren't as entitled as women to have access to their children. I know there are many people out there who will automatically interpret this bill as doing that, but it does not. In conflict with that, we have this issue of the safety of children. No matter what we're talking about, we really have to put the children first—always and every one. The safety of the children absolutely comes first. Again, what this bill does is remove the misconception that equal shared parental responsibility in section 61DA means that children spend equal time with each parent, because that is not what it actually means. It also repeals a later section which provides that a court must consider, where an order is made for equal shared parental responsibility, the child spending equal time with each of the parents or substantial and significant time with each of the parents. I just want to make it clear here that, in law, when we talk about equal shared parental responsibility—I want to state it again—that does not mean equal shared time. It does not. You would all understand that, with the extended families we have now, with mixed families, with people living and working in different places, it's not always possible to deliver that anyway. So I support this small change to the Family Law Act. I do believe there's much more to be done, but it's a small yet significant step.