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Government moves to fill in gaps in child pro -

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PETER CAVE: The Federal Government has announced initiatives aimed at better protecting women and
children from family violence.

The Attorney-General Robert McClelland has taken aim at legal irregularities, announcing an inquiry
into how state and territory laws interact with the Commonwealth laws.

Mr McClelland has also vowed to tackle inefficiencies in the system of mandatory reporting, saying
the threshold for reporting abuse is too low.

There'll be a review of family court processes and a pilot program which will see lawyers once
again become involved in dispute resolutions.

Simon Lauder reports.

SIMON LAUDER: Delivering a speech in Albury this morning the Federal Attorney-General Robert
McClelland declared there are too many families that slip through the safety net and remain exposed
to abuse and violence.

Mr McClelland cites the example of Darcey Freeman, the little girl who was allegedly thrown off
Melbourne's West Gate Bridge.

Former Family Court judge professor Richard Chisholm has been commissioned to review Federal Family
Court proceedings to ensure nothing about them discourages people from disclosing concerns about
safety.

There will also be an Australian Law Reform Commission Inquiry into how state and territory laws
interact with Commonwealth ones to ensure there are no gaps and to come up with ways to get rid of
inconsistencies.

The Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says his Government aims to do everything humanly and legally
possible to protect children.

KEVIN RUDD: There is too much violence towards children. It's unacceptable and therefore the nation
has to lift its game. The nation has to do better and I support therefore the initiatives being put
forward by the Attorney-General.

We will need to take this debate through the community and in consultation with the states and
territories but our overriding mission is this: How do we do better as a country to protect
children, to protect our kids from violence?

SIMON LAUDER: The Attorney-General has acknowledged the view that the threshold for reporting child
abuse is too low, leading to too much paperwork and not enough action.

And when it comes to dispute resolution between parents Robert McClelland wants to open the door
for the involvement of more lawyers. There'll be a pilot program to provide legal representation in
mediation sessions.

The vice-president of Relationships Australia Anne Hollonds has welcomed the announcements.

ANNE HOLLONDS: These steps are building upon some quite revolutionary changes to the family law
system over the last few years and I think that it is, it's a good step to strengthen what we have
and to actually now focus on the particular needs of the more vulnerable parties, the more
vulnerable families.

SIMON LAUDER: Ms Hollonds says between legal ambiguities and inefficiencies in the system,
difficult cases have been going unnoticed or unresolved. She's hoping the Federal Government's
review and inquiry will find solutions.

ANNE HOLLONDS: Well all the cases that involve some serious issues such as concerns about the
wellbeing of the children or domestic violence or the effect of mental health or substance abuse
issues, these are all the cases that cause us a great deal of concern and it's important that state
and Commonwealth authorities work very closely together to ensure that these families and these
children don't fall between the gaps.

SIMON LAUDER: What hopes are you pinning on the inquiry into how state and territory laws interact
with the Commonwealth laws?

ANNE HOLLONDS: Well I think it's important that there be good information sharing between the state
and the Commonwealth authorities; that children are not exposed to multiple interviews with various
professionals unnecessarily; but that we are able to, in a more coordinated way, pick up on the
risks as early as possible with these families and to ensure that the appropriate measures are
taken to protect the children.

SIMON LAUDER: Rebecca Eberle is the coordinator of the Albury Wodonga Family Pathways network of
family lawyers and mediators. She was there for the Attorney-General's announcement this morning.

She welcomes the review into family court processes and the inquiry into how state and territory
laws interact with the Commonwealth laws.

REBECCA EBERLE: Sometimes there is a problem with different orders being made in different
jurisdictions and confusion around what that means for a family and the way that the communication
occurs I guess between the different systems and families can be involved in two different parallel
systems at once; so how that comes together.

SIMON LAUDER: What about the mandatory reporting of abuse? Do you agree that the threshold is too
low and it's causing a lot of time wasting?

REBECCA EBERLE: It is too low in the family courts, in the family law system. The requirements are
not as stringent as they are in other, in say the state based system. So yeah, that would be good
when they look at that.

SIMON LAUDER: Rebecca Eberle says there will be concerns about the plan to involve more lawyers in
family disputes.

REBECCA EBERLE: Family relationship centres are a neutral place where people can go to sort out
their parenting issues. If lawyers are there it would be important that both mother and father have
a lawyer there to make it equal. So it would be interesting how that all works.

SIMON LAUDER: The Law Reform Commission is due to report to the Commonwealth within a year.

PETER CAVE: Simon Lauder reporting.