Speeches

Federal Parliament - Family Law Amendment (A Step Towards a Safer Family Law System) Bill 2020

October 26, 2020

Dr ALYI would also like to add my voice in thanking the member for Moreton for tabling the Family Law Amendment (A Step Towards a Safer Family Law System) Bill 2020. This very important bill removes the presumption of equal shared parental responsibility. As the member for Newcastle explained, this provision in the Family Law Act was first introduced in 2016. We've heard evidence of the damaging aspects of this, supported by empirical evidence, research and a number of inquiries conducted by the parliament into the family law system. There have been so many inquiries, but no change, no real reform, has been made to the family law system. The current family law inquiry has heard further evidence from witnesses who have had experience with the Family Court and particularly from those who have been impacted by the provision of equal shared parental responsibility in the current Family Law Act. As the member for Newcastle mentioned, the bill has widespread support among practitioners in family law, among people who provide services in domestic and family violence and, indeed, among the public as well.

I think I have spoken before about my own experiences with domestic violence and with the family law system. That was many, many years ago. Sitting on the current family law inquiry, I am astounded at the fact that, 20 to 30 years on, the substantive issues that I experienced all those years ago with the system persist. There has been no real structural reform within our family law system, particularly to address issues of family and domestic violence. The provision for equal shared parental responsibility, as members before me have rightly pointed out, does not work in the best interests of the child. We have example after example after example where this provision has placed children in harm's way, with a partner or a parent who is violent or who has perpetrated acts of violence and abuse towards their partner. The provision is also used by parties in a family law dispute as a weapon against each other—very simply, that's what it's used for. We already have an adversarial family law system; we already have an adversarial law system. Adding further measures to the Family Law Act that enable parties in a family law dispute of all things, where emotions are high, where tensions are high and where people come to the system feeling broken and defeated—it only serves to create more of an adversarial system. That can never be in the best interests of the child.

In approaching reforms to family law, the interests of the child must be foremost in our minds. Legal experts, service providers, those who are at the coalface and even those who have experienced the family law system agree on this point—that the children must always be at the fore of our minds. I can see no logical reason why a presumption of equal shared parental responsibility puts the best interests of the child first; I can see no reason why that happens. In fact, it is counterproductive and detrimental in cases of family and domestic violence.

As the member for Newcastle pointed out, the number of women and children killed by domestic violence in Australia is staggering. We are at crisis point in this country. We should, as members of parliament, be doing everything that we possibly can here to address this scourge within our society. Removing the presumption of equal shared parental responsibility would go some way to doing that, because it would not only put the best interests of the child first but also address those substantive structural measures that currently exist within the Family Law Act that allow it to continue.

ENDS