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Tuesday, 30 July 2019
Page: 1146

Senator ROBERTS (Queensland) (16:03): As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, I want to speak on this matter of public importance, that Australia's failed family law system is contributing to at least 21 male suicides and one female murder a week, and must be urgently fixed. One Nation is deeply concerned about the large number of avoidable deaths through suicide and homicide that are directly related to the broken system of family law that currently is a blight on the Australian legal system.

Men on the tail end of broken relationships are at the end of their tether when they have limited or no access to their children as the result of the confusion, excessive costs and long delays that are a feature of the family law system in most of Australia. Many of these men are not able to cope and become further victims of this oppressive system by taking their own lives as a final solution to the unbearable processes of marital breakdown and the forced tribulations of dealing with the family law court.

There are multiple issues raised in this matter for discussion, ranging from the financial dramas of property settlements and child support, custody, guardianship to issues related to access to any children of the relationship. It is this latter issue that often leads to the most grief for fathers when the courts seem to take an often biased view of the father's needs and accept often unsubstantiated allegations aimed at limiting the father's access to his children.

The current system is broken, and it needs to be fixed. The Australian Law Reform Commission, in their recently released report, has suggested that the Family Court merge with the Federal Circuit Court so that all these issues can be dealt with at the same place. The current practices of the Family Court have resulted in lengthy delays, dragging out an already flawed process. It can take up to 18 months or beyond to get to trial in the Family Court, and even longer to receive a decision of the court. Damaged relationships are being destroyed by the time and expense of resolving disputes in the Family Court. Domestic violence orders, sought often through the state systems, are given out in many instances on the basis of fabricated complaints made for the specific purpose of being used as a weapon to deny fathers access to their kids. Money-grubbing lawyers acting for women do this for leverage against fathers in divorce proceedings, either for revenge or to get more money in the property split.

Don't get me wrong: we recognise that domestic violence is real. But it operates in both directions. Dollar costs in the Family Court to get to trial average out at $110,000. It is cheaper in the Federal Circuit Court—around $30,000. An example of a more efficient system is the Family Court of Western Australia—a state court, separate from the Family Court of Australia. The model as operating in Western Australia is considered much more efficient, utilising magistrates with wide-ranging family-oriented powers. In that state there is a three-month turnaround on decisions, and the system is much cheaper in operation. User satisfaction is high there, too.

Suicide is a terrible cause of death of men and women in Australia, but it is mostly men. Of 1,966 coroner-certified suicides in 2017, where psychosocial factors contribute, 1,465 were of men and 501 of women. Suicide is the leading cause of death of people under the age of 45, with the number of men committing suicide three times that of females. There were 420 persons who suicided as a direct connection with disruption of family by separation or divorce. This is too many people who have taken their own lives because of the broken family law system that could not relieve their pain. These numbers are shameful. They relate to real people who should be still alive, whose needs for help were not met. The system needs to be fixed.

Then there are the stories of true violence as a result of anger, generated in the area of domestic violence and not effectively dealt with through the Family Court. These were homicides—deliberate killings. In 2018 there were 375 reported homicides in Australia. Of these 375 murders, 140 related to domestic violence breakdowns; 75 women were killed as a result of family breakdown. However, 65 deaths were of males. Where are the protections that should have prevented these terrible deaths—children left without a parent? Parents losing their adult children? These problems are so widespread. What about the grandmothers losing their daughters and their sons? Every time I go into the community I hear it as a major concern for people in the street and at all levels of our community. A better family law system will support and protect those who are affected by family violence and those vulnerable to its intrusive and coercive decisions. One Nation supports a complete review of the family law system to ensure an end to the unnecessary deaths through suicides and murder in the context of broken family relationships.