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Monday, 3 March 2014
Page: 1418


Mr CHRISTENSEN (DawsonThe Nationals Deputy Whip) (21:00): Many reckless pieces of legislation were brought before this place under the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd Labor-Greens alliance, but perhaps none were more reckless or more damaging to Australian families than their Family Law Legislation Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill 2011. That law redefined family violence to mean just about anything, and encouraged vindictive parents to make fraudulent claims to remove other parents from families. The Labor minister at the time claimed that no-one would make such false claims. Yet in a submission to the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs inquiry relating to the 2011 bill, Professor Patrick Parkinson from the University of Sydney referenced a paper called ‘Domestic Violence: Views of Queensland Magistrates’ when he said:

A … survey of 38 Queensland magistrates found that 74% agreed with the proposition that protection orders are used in Family Court proceedings as a tactic to aid a parent’s case and to deprive their partner of contact with their children.

Fast forward a year after the law came into effect, and we have this article from The Sydney Morning Herald of 6 July 2013, the headline of which said it all: 'False … claims are the new court weapon, retiring judge says'. Justice David Collier was retiring from the Parramatta Family Court after 14 years on the bench and spoke about mothers who, he said, directed false allegations of abuse against former partners. He said:

When you have heard the evidence, you realise that this is a person who's so determined to win that he or she will say anything. I'm satisfied that a number of people who have appeared before me have known that it is one of the ways of completely shutting husbands out of the child's life.

It's a horrible weapon.

The consequences of such allegations can be extreme. A former colleague of mine and of others in this place, the former member for Hume, Alby Schultz, spoke with some of the victims of family law who were treated most unfairly and, unable to see light at the end of the tunnel, ended up taking their own lives. In his retirement speech, Alby had this to say:

in 2005 I produced a booklet based on three years of hard research about the Child Support Agency and its relentless, unjustifiable anti-male culture, which culminated in the suicide of a number of my young constituents. Confronting the very serious issue of male suicide caused by the gender biased CSA was treated as a politically sensitive no-go area by many politicians, which I embraced as a challenge on behalf of 4,000 families and individuals across the country.

Like the member for Hume, I too have had my share of constituents who feel they have reached the end of their tether. One example is a constituent whose ex-partner moved from their mining town home to the coast. When he followed so he could continue to spend time with his son, he could no longer find a job that paid as well as one of those mining jobs out west. But the CSA deemed that he was 'capable' of earning the much higher wage, so they forced him to make child support payments as if he was actually receiving that income. That situation was just not sustainable for him, so he had no choice but to move back to the remote west, giving up access to his son, so he could pay exorbitant amounts of money to keep his ex-partner in luxury on the coast. The CSA, through its actions, denied this father his right to have meaningful access to his child and, through its actions, denied the child its right to a meaningful relationship with its father.

In another example, a Mackay man had court orders in place that specifically precluded his ex-partner from moving to another town. In breach of those court orders, his ex-partner moved to an undisclosed location in another town, depriving him of his right to see his children. To rub salt into that wound, his ex-partner then requested a change of assessment from the CSA because, in their view, the ex-partner was no longer looking after his children. Despite knowing that the ex-partner was in breach of court orders and that the father's care time had been reduced against his will, the CSA still increased the amount of child support he had to pay to his ex-partner.

Family law and child support is a very messy area and there are no winners. But, under the current system, some of the losers are needlessly being turned into massive losers—even to the extent of losing their children, and their life. When constituents come to me with family law and child support issues, they almost always end their story with the phrase: 'How is that fair?' Well, it is not fair. The system is broken and the system needs to be fixed. It can be made fairer. We can do something to restore the balance in this area so that fathers can be fathers and that children can have a relationship with their fathers. There will never be winners in family law; there will never be winners in child support. But the least that we can do in this place is to make it fair for all parties.