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Monday, 10 September 2018
Page: 8445

Ms HUSAR (Lindsay) (18:43): I rise to speak on the Family Law Amendment (Family Violence and Cross-examination of Parties) Bill 2018. Many women have settled for really imperfect outcomes when it comes to settlements offered in family law courts, and they do so in order to avoid cross-examination by their perpetrators—and it is absolutely shameful. We in this place need to do things that will empower women to leave bad and abusive relationships not condemn them to live through them. Women are strong and many, as we know from the statistics, have faced countless horrible situations and trauma. The ongoing cross-examination of domestic abuse survivors by their perpetrators is a practice that has gone on for far too long. As parliamentarians in this place, we are in the extremely privileged position of affording and providing safety to all of our citizens, including women—predominantly women—going through the family law courts. We are able in this place to make a difference to hundreds and thousands of people who are affected by domestic and family violence—and we should. It is now at epidemic levels and has remained at high levels for far too long.

Labor's announcement during the 2016 election campaign and commitment to end cross-examination of DV victims by their perpetrators are a really important step, but we matched it with $43 million worth of funding for legal aid. It cannot be delivered by those in the government without that commitment to funding legal aid to make sure that everybody has access to justice. I'll use my time here again to ask the third Prime Minister, perhaps, to stand up for victims and survivors of domestic violence.

Subjecting women and sometimes their children to this form of hostile questioning retraumatises and creates new trauma for victims. It can also be why a case is dropped and a perpetrator is allowed to remain out of any kind of punishment or gets off the hook, and it's simply unacceptable. Sadly, there have been far too many promises to address it. I think we go back to George Brandis when he was here. He was talking a big game about doing it but actually did nothing, and I have no great hope that the current leader is going to act anytime soon. We hear of the bipartisan support and the words—which, quite frankly, are very, very empty and very hollow—about ending domestic violence for women and children and for men, where it occurs, but where is the action that backs up the rhetoric?

One of the more shocking cases of domestic violence is a woman I've come to know whose story is horrific. It's so bad that it's amazing that she and even her girls survived what she went through. Her former husband is now tucked away behind bars for what I hope will be a very long time, but not before she was subjected to him cross-examining her in their case. During one of the court hearings, the abuser attended court unrepresented, and that gave him the privilege and the legal right to ask his victim questions. It was such a horrific experience.

It defeats the purpose of courts having safe rooms or 'shine rooms' for women to go into before they have to attend court. It defeats the purpose of the WDVCAS support staff going with these women, when you then throw them under a bus, essentially, and let their perpetrator cross-examine them. Of course, this is just one of thousands and thousands of examples that I could cite in here of women who have had to endure this kind of hostile experience at the hands of their abuser.

This reform to end cross-examination has been called for by survivors—and women, predominantly—for years, and it is an absolute failure of this government to have not delivered it. Allowing an alleged perpetrator of domestic violence access to the ability to cross-examine a victim has the effect of perpetrating violence once again through a court-sanctioned process, an endorsed procedure. The perpetrator has the opportunity to continue the fear, to create intimidation, to undermine and to exercise control in a courtroom setting. It cannot be accepted any longer. When we know better, we do better.

Tackling domestic and family violence will be a priority for us when we are in government, and in opposition we will continue to call for those things to happen. I'll continue to work towards changing legislation, advocating on behalf of thousands of women who are affected by this.

Changing legislation in family law is just one step that this government can take now to help end the scourge of family violence. Imagine being a woman stuck in a relationship and then being too scared to leave because this is what she fears; this is what she's going to face. It's hardly a solution. It's a crisis that's going to take the whole of society to change, and it can't be left to just governments alone to end the rampant behaviour, of course.

Society, corporate Australia, unions, schools, workplaces, media outlets, police and law enforcement all have a role to play. There is not a single person in this country who should feel excluded from the efforts to end family and domestic violence. We all have a role to play, and we in here can play the biggest role. Not one single person is exempted from the responsibility of protecting mothers, sisters, daughters, aunties, grandmothers, colleagues, neighbours and friends. We all ought to feel obliged in helping end all forms of violence against women.

It is worth pointing out here that respecting women and valuing women equally in all areas of society would go a long way in demonstrating an understanding of how and why violence against women has reached epidemic levels, which includes the halls of this place too. Broad gender inequality is the root cause of men's violence against women; indeed, there is a clear link between issues of gender equality and issues of domestic violence. So in our efforts to reduce violence against women we should seriously consider what we can do to reduce the markers of gender inequality that stubbornly remain in our society and in our economy today. The gender pay gap, the lack of women in corporate positions of power, the lack of women in political positions of power, the lack of support for working women with children and the lack of support for older women in our communities—these all contribute to a broader sense of powerlessness that may be difficult to understand when you're not on the receiving end of it.

The correlation between this sense of powerlessness and the fear, anxiety and despair that many victims of domestic and family violence feel is obvious. We have to have a very serious discussion about what we're doing to reduce gender inequality alongside the discussion we're having about what we're doing to tackle family violence. The fact is that these things go hand in hand. In my community there were 1,068 domestic assaults over a 12-month period. Ninety per cent of the work done by my local police command is related to domestic violence. The scale of the problem is simply daunting, but as a community and as leaders we must find ways to tackle this much better.

In my community, over a one-month period, 56 women and 95 children sought help from a specialist domestic violence service and were unable to be helped. They were turned away from a shelter, a safe place to go when they needed it, because of massive gaps between the huge demand for services from women fleeing domestic violence and overcrowded, underfunded shelters that have borne the brunt of state and Liberal government funding cuts. Just today we see the New South Wales state Liberals rushing through the tender process, with just a three-week time frame, that's going to privatise the support services that aid women who need to attend court through the WDVCAS service. When is enough just enough? When do we take the problem of supporting victims of DV seriously, so those who need to leave can? And so that, when they do leave, they know they won't be subjected to cross-examination; they know they'll be supported in a specialist accommodation service; they know they won't face more trauma compounding the trauma they have already been through.

I draw this House's attention to the family law court and the situation happening there. I know that there's some legislation being tossed about and a time-frame being rushed through again over through the Senate with the family law court reforms, trying to melt the Federal Circuit Court and the Family Court together. That is not going to solve the problem that most of these complex cases deal with. We must do more to support these women fleeing violence, and we as leaders here need to be advocates to stop it.

Under our policy, the policy that we were proud to announce during the 2016 election campaign and re-announced again since then, where family violence is alleged the family law courts will be required to consider measures to protect the victims and survivors, including, if other measures such as video conferencing are insufficient, refusing to allow an unrepresented litigant to personally cross-examine the other party. Legal aid will be made available to allow all unrepresented parties in the matter to be legally represented at trials and in circumstances where the judge has decided that the alleged perpetrator cannot personally cross-examine the other party without first obtaining legal representation. This bill cannot go through unless the $43 million that is required to be committed to support this is matched. Labor is committed to changing the status quo for women around Australia with some tangible commitments and some tangible outcomes for these victims. We are committed to facilitating the representation of unrepresented litigants, while the government is more concerned with ripping more money away from Legal Aid and leaving women worse off. Without certainty and without commitment organisations like Legal Aid cannot function and continue to provide services to some of the most vulnerable members of our community.

This government need to do a far better job of protecting women, and they are falling grossly short on the promises that they have made. Last year they announced they would spend $12 million trialling the use of innovative technology to keep women safe—so far falling ridiculously short and only delivering a measly $180,000 of that commitment.

Family violence in Australia is not something that any of us should take lightly. We should provide more than rhetoric. We need to do better to combat this crisis where Australian women and families currently face being cross-examined. The current arrangement for women going through family law is inadequate and woeful. The times in the Family Court, the three-year delays for some of the most complex matters, and the associated high costs are barriers for some to even enter there—a barrier to even having their matter heard in the first place. I call on this government to match this bill with the $43 million of funding that it requires.