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Thursday, 26 May 2011
Page: 4832

Mr ALEXANDER (Bennelong) (13:39): I rise to speak on the Family Law Legislation Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill 2011. The issues covered in this bill are of great personal interest to me but, more importantly, are of far greater concern to many members of my electorate of Bennelong. This is a topic that requires significant legislative improvement, as the current system has been shown time and again not to be fulfilling the objectives that were established by the law-makers who preceded us in this place. Firstly, I have concerns at what appears to be an illogical decision to have us debating and voting on a bill that has been referred to a Senate committee for inquiry. The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee has received over 200 submissions from individuals and community groups that have deep understandings of the issues involved. It strikes me as somewhat of an arrogant step by this government to bring on this debate before the Senate committee has reported back on its inquiry. Surely the use of all the information and tools available to us as legislators is more likely to result in the best outcome. It is the outcomes that should be focused on in speaking on this bill today.

This bill effects a change in the law to expand the definition of family violence and remove costs orders on complainants making intentionally false allegations of family violence. Currently, family violence is seen as 'violence that exerts a reasonable fear for a family member's wellbeing or safety'. The new definition proposed under the amendment is much more subjective, adding 'violent, threatening or other behaviour that coerces or controls a member of the person's family or causes the family member to be fearful'. The examples added specifically include financial control, which may lead to unintended consequences where a child support payer makes application to the Child Support Agency or courts to reduce the level of child support payable. In such a circumstance, the payer is properly exercising their rights under the Child Support (Assessment) Act 1989 and yet would seem to be culpable of family violence under the new definition.

This bill also seeks to remove the friendly parent provision, which currently requires family courts to consider the willingness of one parent towards facilitating the other to have a meaningful relationship with their child. The removal of this provision could lead to a situation where parents can effectively remove a previous partner from their life through the prevention of contact with their children. This would encourage parental alienation syndrome—the practice where one parent instigates and maintains conflict to harm a child's relationship with the other parent.

The bill also proposes to remove mandatory costs orders where one party knowingly makes a false allegation or statement in the proceedings to gain a tactical advantage. Currently the court is able to implement financial penalties as a disincentive to this course of action. This proposed change will encourage fabricated allegations of violence or abuse, hearsay and uncorroborated allegations. The logic of removing these court orders is that they act as a disincentive for the disclosure of family violence. However, according to the Australian Institute of Family Studies, more than two thirds of respondents to a survey disagreed with the proposition that the prospect of an adverse cost order has discouraged allegations of violence or child abuse that are genuinely held and/or are likely to be true. Parents in conflict too often refer to their rights as parents and the rights they have to have access to their child. This is the wrong focus. The Family Court makes it clear that it is the right of the child to have access to their parents. Breakdowns in relationships too often lead to a phase of adult war—logic and fairness are overridden by emotional issues. Inevitably, the child becomes the collateral damage.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. BC Scott ): Order! The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The member is granted leave to continue his speech when the debate is resumed. The debate may be resumed at a later hour.