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Tuesday, 30 July 2019
Page: 1147


Senator CHANDLER (Tasmania) (16:08): I rise today to speak on this matter of public importance as tabled by Senator Roberts regarding the family law system and in doing so I highlight that this matter touches on three very important issues close to my heart and close to the hearts of many Australians and indeed close to the hearts of this government. This government recognises that separation from a partner and a family breakdown can be among the most stressful and difficult circumstances in people's lives. As part of our constant consideration of these incredibly important issues and their interaction, if Senator Roberts could provide the government with the source of his statement, that would be greatly appreciated.

The first of the issues that Senator Roberts's matter of public importance touches on is that of mental health and ensuring that Australians who are suffering from mental health issues have the best possible access to care. The second of these is our family law system, and I intend to outline today just how the Morrison coalition government is strengthening and simplifying our family law system. And the third and perhaps most important issue is domestic and family violence. Again, I rise today to outline what our government is doing to both support these individuals and families who may have experienced domestic violence and, more importantly, invest in preventative measures and initiatives to ensure that domestic violence doesn't occur in the first place.

The Morrison government has made the mental health of Australians a priority. The tragedy of suicide touches far too many Australian families and, as Senator Roberts outlined, it is the leading cause of death of our young people. The statistics he mentioned in his speech just then are tragic. It is absolutely tragic that this many people are taking their lives each year. We as a government take the mental health of Australians very seriously and, more than any other previous government, we are seeking to safeguard the mental wellbeing of Australians so that we don't see these statistics climb.

We're delivering more frontline services that meet the specific needs of local communities through a record $1.45 billion investment in our primary health networks. We are providing long-term support for local psychologists, mental health nurses and social workers, ensuring that the right services are available in the right place and at the right time. In addition to our historic mental health package in the 2019-20 budget, the government has invested $79 million over the next four years in a range of national suicide prevention leadership and support activities and programs, including those that focus on Australian men who may be at high risk of suicide, as outlined by Senator Roberts. These projects include specific regional approaches to suicide prevention and are being implemented by primary health networks as part of their responsibilities for providing locally tailored mental health and suicide prevention support projects. They include at-risk and hard-to-reach groups.

Might I say, coming from Tasmania, it pleases me greatly to see this government taking so seriously the mental health of those people living in the regions. I have seen all too often in my own state just what the impact of mental health can be on a small community, particularly in the tragic event that a suicide occurs and the ripple effect that can have not only on the family impacted but also on the friends. In a small local area it's only magnified. So I'm very happy to see we're making progress in this area.

The government is also funding the implementation and evaluation of 12 suicide prevention trials in identified priority areas, again being led by primary health networks, to improve our understanding of what strategies are most effective in preventing suicide at a local level and for at-risk populations. Further, we are improving accessibility to mental health services by funding a range of telephone and online digital mental health services, either free of charge or at a low cost. These range from telephone and web-counselling services through to web based treatment programs and peer forums. These include specific services for men.

In raising that today, as Senator Roberts said, we are seeing more often that mental health is impacting on young people. We know that young people are very connected people. They will not necessarily go to the doctor and have a face to face if they're having mental health problems, but sometimes something as simple as being able to pick up the phone or send a text message to someone and say, 'I'm not coping right now; I need a bit of a hand,' is really valuable. So I'm really happy that we are investing in those traditional ways of dealing with mental health issues but also in some more technologically savvy ways. I think that is a really important way to reach out to young people struggling with their mental health.

The second issue that Senator Roberts touched on in his speech was family law reform. I have a law degree and firmly believe, through my study of the law, that it is only ever effective when the law is easily understood and when it can be easily navigated by those people who need to use it. So it's absolutely valid for us to be discussing today some of the troubles that people might have in navigating the family law system. This coalition government is committed to ongoing improvements to our family law system to ensure that they help families separate in a safe, supportive and timely way.

Indeed, we have already committed to delivering a structural reform of the federal family law courts to help end the unnecessary costs and delays for thousands of Australian families that arise from a split federal Family Court system. This will allow families to have their matters dealt with as efficiently as possible and under a single set of rules and procedures. They will reduce the backlog of matters before the family law courts and drive timely, cheaper and more consistent resolution of disputes for Australian families. Our reform will create, in effect, a single point of entry into the family law jurisdiction of the Federal Court system and create a consistent pathway for Australian families to have their family law disputes dealt with in the Federal Court. With any hope, this vitally needed structural reform will allow many more additional family law cases to be resolved each and every year.

Not only has the government made a real commitment to review the court system that deals with family law matters but we also commissioned the first comprehensive review of the family law framework in more than 40 years. That review is currently under careful consideration by this government and front of mind in that consideration is how we can ensure the family law system works for Australian families, keeps them safe, and, as I said, allows for efficient and timely separations.

Above and beyond this review of the family law framework, you don't have to look far to see the efforts this government has taken to assist families that are separating. To date, this has included the establishment and extension of specialist domestic violence units and health justice partnerships; providing legal and social support assistance to vulnerable women experiencing family violence; establishing and extending the family advocacy and support services which provide duty lawyers at family law courts and provide services to families affected by violence; $50 million over four years for family law property mediation as part of the Women's Economic Security Package; $11 million to improve information sharing between the family law, family violence and child protection agencies, including the co-location of state and territory family safety officials in family law courts; prohibiting perpetrators of family violence from cross-examining their victims in family law proceedings—I think this is quite an important one; and providing $7 million to legal aid commissions to represent affected parties. These measures are on top of the $160 million per year for family law services to support people with family law disputes outside of court.

No-one ever plans for a family break-up, but unfortunately a sad fact of life is that almost 50 per cent of families do separate at some time. We owe it to Australians to make what is already an undeniably difficult and sometimes traumatic process just that little bit easier, be it by simplifying the system by which the law is administered or, indeed, reviewing the law itself.

Third—and I will try to address this as rapidly as possible, although it is a very important issue that would require far more time than I have today—is family violence. This government recognises that family and relationship breakdowns can be amongst the most stressful and difficult circumstances in people's lives not just for the adults concerned but particularly for the children. One of the first events I attended as a senator earlier this month was the launch of a new publication by Huon Domestic Violence Service—a fantastic support service based in the Huon Valley, where I grew up. At this event, I was pleased to be able to launch the new Red Flags booklet on behalf of the Huon Domestic Violence Service. At the event, I heard a number of very touching contributions by those who have experienced family violence. There is so much that this government is doing to tackle the scourge of domestic violence and particularly violence against women. We have one clear policy on this issue: absolute, irrefutable zero tolerance for violence against women and their children. Women and their children have the right to be safe in their homes, in their communities, in their workplaces, but of course we know from watching the news each night that this doesn't always happen.

Even if only one person dies per year as a result of domestic violence and associated mental health issues, that is still one person too many. I understand that, and the Morrison coalition government understands that. That's why we're implementing the policies and initiatives I've mentioned here today, plus so much more, to ensure that we prevent, address and end the scourge that domestic violence is in our society. Saving lives and ensuring families remain as they should be is simply too important to ignore. (Time expired)