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Thursday, 18 August 2005
Page: 99

Mrs HULL (4:08 PM) —We can certainly assert in this House that families in Australia have never had a better friend than the Howard-Vaile coalition government. Aside from family tax benefits, tax cuts, child-care rebates and a host of other financial measures, this government has now moved to restore fairness and equity in the family law system. This has long been overdue. The system was put in place by Labor, who have consistently failed the children of Australia and will continue to fail the children if it is up to the member for Gellibrand. Assertions of conflict have been made here today by the shadow Attorney-General, the member for Gellibrand, and they are absolutely scurrilous. She knows the truth. The member for Gellibrand was literally advised of the truth today at an open press conference. She knows the truth, yet she came into this House and made assertions that she knew were false.

Through her dissenting report, the shadow Attorney-General has used this opportunity to make a difference in the lives of Australian children after parental separation and breakdown to hit out politically at proposals for industrial relations reform. Is it any wonder that we are concerned as to whether the shadow Attorney-General, the member for Gellibrand, has her own agenda to frustrate any reform that might take place in family law that would benefit the children of Australian people? Even her own party supported the reforms that would benefit these families and, more particularly, our children, the children of broken relationships.

As I said, the shadow Attorney-General, the member for Gellibrand, is absolutely aware of her misreading of the letter from the Attorney-General. I told her, as a part of that advisory committee, that it was not my role to determine where these family relationship centres were going to be placed. But, no; she would not believe that. She then came into this House and made assertions, scurrilous accusations and personal attacks on the members of this advisory committee, who are there purely and objectively to ensure that everything is taken into consideration when we determine how family relationship centres are to function in the future, for and on behalf of the children of Australia and the parents of the children of Australia, and how these centres will assist parents to have meaningful, strong and equitable relationships with their children.

What the shadow Attorney-General has done here today is cleverly manipulate words. The shadow Attorney-General, the member for Gellibrand, is putting her own political interests first by making such false allegations and assertions in this House. And then she turns around and says, ‘I hope the Attorney-General will see the error of his ways and decide to retreat from the pathway of getting this advisory committee to do the site selection,’ when she knows very well that the Attorney-General had no intention of having this advisory committee make site selections.

How will we read this? What might happen? Maybe the shadow Attorney-General, the member for Gellibrand, will go out and say: ‘Well, here it is. I asked the Attorney-General to retract from getting this advisory group to determine the sites for these centres and, look, he has actually gone and done it.’ Do you know why he is not letting this advisory committee determine where these centres will be? It is because he never had any intention of doing so, and the member for Gellibrand knew that he never, ever had any intention of doing so. Basically, I am really disappointed. I have a lot of time for the member for Chifley, Julia Irwin, Jennie George and Harry Quick.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. IR Causley)—The member for Riverina will refer to members by their seat.

Mrs HULL —I apologise that I have used their names, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I enjoy their company. They have been absolutely wonderful in determining how the best interests of Australian children can be seen to after parental separation. So I am disappointed that members have focused on personal criticisms of an advisory group rather than on the fabulous objectives of family relationship centres and delivering the very good outcomes that our Labor colleagues have worked very hard in cooperation with us to achieve.

The outcomes and objectives of family relationship centres are very meaningful and strong, and I think they deserve recognition. From family relationship centres, you can get pre-marriage education to give your marriage a sound start—a very good basis on which to begin a family. If you are having a bit of a ‘scud’ here and there, and you want to improve your relationship, you will be able to get education on family relationships and access other services that will help you strengthen your relationship. These are really sound objectives for families. This clearly dispels any notion that this government is letting families down. If you are having a relationship difficulty that is bordering on ‘really difficult’, you can get information and access services to help prevent a separation. That is what we want to do. We want to give our mums and dads—the partners of Australia—the opportunity and the tools to solve their issues so that actions that impact on the children of Australia can be minimised.

For separated parents, everything is very rocky, emotions run high and you have no idea of your rights and roles. You do not want to go through the legal system because it sometimes gives very skewed outcomes. With commonsense, people can generally resolve their own issues. If you are a separated parent you can go to a family relationship centre and get help to resolve your dispute and reach an agreement on your parenting arrangements. You can sit down and cooperatively work out how you will jointly parent your children in separate households. You may not be partners for life, but you are parents for life. These centres will be able to give you quality information and advice on dispute resolution as well as help you to access other services that you might need to assist you in achieving a very admirable goal. If your parenting arrangements break down after you have been through the process, and your court orders are breached, the centre will be your first port of call to help you fix the problem outside the courts. In the courts, it can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. That is what we heard during our inquiry and it is in our report Every picture tells a story.

Grandparents and their grandchildren are affected by family separation. Family relationship centres can give you good advice on how you can manage the process so that you and your grandchildren can have a meaningful, warm, tender and loving relationship. It has disturbed me that, rather than highlighting the positive objectives of the family relationship centres, an advisory group which has been willing to collect information and provide it to other bodies to enable these objectives to be reached has been criticised here today. (Time expired)