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Monday, 19 October 2015
Page: 11702


Ms CLAYDON (Newcastle) (13:06): I spoke earlier today on some of the implications of having a judicial system that is not adequately resourced and staffed. In my electorate of Newcastle, that is having a profound impact at the moment. We simply are not having judicial replacements appointed in a timely manner, leaving women and children in particular—but everybody who is seeking to get parenting disputes settled—in an unsatisfactory and unacceptable state of limbo. I thank the member for Indi for bringing this important motion before the House today and acknowledge her strong advocacy for victims of crime and, in particular, victims of family violence.

There is a 12-year National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children in Australia. It was launched in 2010 under the former Labor government, and it brings together the efforts of governments across the nation to make a real and sustained reduction in the levels of violence against women. It was the first plan of its kind to coordinate across jurisdictions and to focus on the prevention of violence. While there is progress being made—and I certainly welcome the government's commitment to continuing that national plan—there are indeed many areas where so much more work has to be done.

I acknowledge the Prime Minister's recent commitment to the Women's Safety Package to help try to stop some violence. Again I put on record that this is a welcome first step but it is just a first step. As the motion before us brings to light, there are some glaring inconsistencies that currently exist across legal jurisdictions, and the accessibility of legal aid and representation in court proceedings is emerging as a very strong issue. Victims, advocacy groups and even the former Chief Justice of the Family Court are on the record describing the situation as being unacceptable and in need of remedy.

At the inquest into her son's death the 2015 Australian of the Year, Rosie Batty, said that she suffered vicarious trauma caused by dealing with the court system over several years to negotiate custody arrangements with her former partner. Every time she went to court, she would experience heightened levels of anxiety. She talked about feeling desperate, alone and afraid in trying to deal with her violent ex-partner. She represented herself in court because, in her words, 'the system is too expensive'. The Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia, the Hon. Diana Bryant, I note, in fact refers to this phenomenon of self-representation as 'unrepresentation', noting that, from her perspective, that accurately describes the status of those people acting without legal assistance.

I also draw the House's attention to an ABC news report that was featured on the PM program back in 2013 and that looked specifically at this issue that the member for Indi is bringing to our attention today: the cross-examination of victims by the perpetrators of violence. In that report, a victim described what she experienced when faced with the prospect of being cross-examined by her former partner, who allegedly raped her, when he refused to have a lawyer. She said:

I was standing outside in the foyer and I was shaking from head to toe and I couldn't breathe properly, I was hyperventilating. At that point I could have easily … just … thrown myself in front of the first bus. I could not believe that he had been allowed to do this to me.

Former Chief Justice of the Family Court Alastair Nicholson said the situation is unacceptable. His words were:

Not everyone realises the degree of fear that's engendered in cross examining them in court, and in affect putting them through the ringer. I think the effects on them are profound and it just shouldn't happen.

In closing: it is clear that people at perhaps their most vulnerable times should expect more from our justice system. It is unacceptable that victims of family violence can be, even perhaps unwittingly, retraumatised by a process that in effect seeks justice and redress for those victims. I commend the motion before the House.

Debate adjourned.

Sitting suspended from 13:12 to 16:02