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Monday, 10 September 2018
Page: 8424

Mr CREWTHER (Dunkley) (17:09): I'm honoured today to speak to the Family Law Amendment (Family Violence and Cross-examination of Parties) Bill 2018. The personal cross-examination of victims by their alleged perpetrators in family law matters is an issue of high community concern. I know it has been raised with me by many locals in Dunkley on a number of occasions and by Australians elsewhere across the country. It is certainly an issue where the perpetrators of family violence should not be able to personally cross-examine their victims in any family law or family violence proceedings.

What will this bill do? It will amend the Family Law Act to prohibit cross-examination where there is an allegation of family violence between parties and any of the following applies: either party has been convicted of or is charged with an offence involving violence or a threat of violence to the other party; a non-interim family violence order applies to both parties; an injunction under sections 68B or 114 of the Family Law Act for the personal protection of either party is directed against the other party; and the court makes an order that personal cross-examination is prohibited. It will also provide that, if personal cross-examination is prohibited, cross-examination must be conducted by a legal representative. And it will provide that, if there is an allegation of family violence but personal cross-examination is not prohibited, the court must apply other appropriate protections.

I saw the need for this many years ago when I worked as an associate to a magistrate at the ACT Magistrates Court—the now Supreme Court Justice and former Magistrate John Burns. I came across a number of family law matters that involved incidents that I'm talking about today. I also experienced this when working as a lawyer in private practice when I undertook a number of family law matters. So it certainly was an issue back then, but it also is an issue to this day, and I'm very proud that the coalition government is taking actions in this regard.

This is also about keeping Australians safe and, in particular, protecting the victims of family violence, whether they be a partner, a parent, a child, the elderly or others. As the Prime Minister has said, it is about having two ears and one mouth and listening to the victims of family violence. It is also a matter that—going into the further details of this bill—the direct cross-examination of a victim of family violence by their alleged perpetrator can expose the victim to retraumatisation and affect their ability to give clear and coherent evidence. That is something that shouldn't be occurring.

Family violence power dynamics can also make it difficult for victims to effectively cross-examine their alleged perpetrator. Some victims of family violence also cite the fear of being cross-examined directly by their alleged perpetrator as a significant factor in deciding to settle a matter, often on unfavourable terms. This can place victims and children at an increased risk of harm. This must be stopped, and this bill is an important step to doing so. Creating an automatic ban, as this bill does, provides certainty for victims of these circumstances that they will not be directly cross-examined by their abuser. And, when these circumstances do not automatically apply, the court does have the discretion to make an order that direct cross-examination is prohibited.

In circumstances where direct cross-examination is not prohibited, the amendment requires that the court also apply other appropriate protections, such as giving evidence via video link or using screens so that the alleged perpetrator cannot be seen. It is important to note that these measures also apply to both parties. Where the prohibition applies, separate legal representatives must undertake the cross-examination on behalf of the victim, as well as the alleged perpetrator. This ensures that the victim is given the appropriate protection and support both when cross-examining the alleged perpetrator and when being cross-examined by the alleged perpetrator.

These measures will improve the justice system's ability to support vulnerable witnesses by requiring the use of appropriate protections in all family law proceedings that involve allegations of family violence. The government is also working with National Legal Aid to assess the resourcing impacts for legal aid commissions to provide legal representation where the ban applies and to ensure that adequate funding is available.

I congratulate the Attorney-General, others in cabinet and the coalition government more generally on this work in bringing out this important bill. I'm proud to be part of a coalition government that is making these changes. We have zero tolerance for violence against women, against men, against kids and against the elderly. Every victim is impacted. Let us all as a government, in a cross-party manner and as a community work to continue protecting people, to reduce the incidents of family violence and, when it does occur, to better support victims and their families. May we also try to better understand victims instead of saying things like what I heard from one member of my electorate, who I shall not name but who went through a very serious family law matter. She was told, 'It couldn't have been that bad if you had stayed as long as you did in the relationship.' These are the sorts of things that are meant to be in the past, that we shouldn't be saying in the current time. These are things of the past, and we should be looking to protect those who are victims of family violence, not to make them endure what they've gone through again.

As I said, this is about keeping the victims of family violence safe. We must continue to do so. I will not stand here and be a person who won't stand up for victims of family violence. I'm here today with my colleagues—and, indeed, I believe those across the chamber as well—to stand for the victims of family violence now and into the future.

Debate adjourned.