BILLS (Federation Chamber): Family Law Amendment

29 November 2021

I rise to speak to the private member's bill, the Family Law Amendment (A Step Towards a Safer Family Law System) Bill 2020, moved by my friend and colleague, the member for Moreton. This is an incredibly important bill because it is about the children. Children in a family breakup, all too often, are used as weapons by perpetrators of family domestic violence and coercive control. They know how to hurt the other partner through exploiting her or his love, connection and concern for their children.

To be honest, I have experienced this through my own divorce. I was told by mediators to be 'careful' because they said my ex-husband did not care about arrangements for the children; he only cared about hurting me and getting all the money out of me that he could. Being 'careful' was the only advice they could give me. I know how effective using the children is as a punishment. I know the worry, the pain and the constant game of trying to mitigate the hurt to the children—all the 'everything's okay' lines, when everything is not okay. Of course, my experience is nothing like the tragic and horrific experiences that we hear of and know of through the media, through work and friendships, but I do have an understanding of the situation.

Currently, the Family Law Act perversely makes things worse, instead of working to avoid tragic outcomes. The act provides a presumption of equal shared parental responsibility in parenting matters It also stipulates a complex pathway for a judge to navigate when determining parenting arrangements—a pathway that has been described as 'practically impenetrable' and 'confusing'.

This bill, tabled by the member for Moreton, removes some of those problematic sections of the Family Law Act. It goes to ensuring that only the children's best interests are served by our justice system. It ensures that the system is not used for retributive justice for perpetrators of abuse. Time and time again, we've been presented with reports from parliamentary committees and organisations, including the all-important Australian Law Reform Commission, raising concerns about these sections of the act. As the member for Moreton pointed out, Women's Legal Services Australia, through their Safety in Family Law campaign, recommended removing the presumption of shared parental responsibility, and we've just heard some excellent evidence given by the member for Griffith about that.

It may be, of course, that the act was written with good intentions, but when we know that a law has bad unintended consequences it's up to us in this House to make amendments to fix it. Yes, it is important when we see those consequences blazoned across our TV screens and social media feeds, but it is equally important for the countless families who we don't see: those who struggle desperately through the courts with inadequate legal support and without the ability to fight back against a system which we know is stacked against them—frightened, vulnerable, often alone and unseen.

The extent of family and domestic violence, including coercive control, is a tragic indictment on our society. One woman every week and one man a month are murdered by a current or former partner. When the women of Australia stood up against violence against women and said, 'Enough is enough!', when we marched through the streets and on to this House, the Prime Minister said that we were lucky we weren't shot. That was bad enough, but he must not—he cannot—say the same about the kids. He cannot dismiss their safety with a glib line, because, as I said at the beginning, this is about the children.

If this House cannot make the world safer for children then why are we here? Or, more to the point, why are they on that side here, because indifference to the vulnerable is their trademark on so many fronts. Remember that the Liberal-National government abolished the Family Court against all recommendations. Pretty much all stakeholders, bar none, advised against that move. In other areas, tens of thousands of people are waiting for in-home aged-care packages and thousands are dying while they wait. Underspending on the NDIS means that so many people are going without the supports they desperately need. Pensioners are being forced to pay back welfare payments while multinational corporations keep billions in JobKeeper payments they didn't qualify for. We have robodebt; neglect in residential aged care; appalling treatment of the early childhood education sector and the families who rely on it; the maintaining of the punitive and racist CDP; the inability to deal with toxic workplaces for vulnerable employees; and, if I had time, there would be more. The government don't care, and I'll go back to my original question: why are they here?