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Tuesday, 30 July 2019
Page: 1150

Senator WATT (Queensland) (16:18): Labor agrees that there are significant problems with the current family law system which have led to unacceptable delays for vulnerable families and particularly for children. There are many factors which have contributed to this current state of affairs. They include the government's failure over the last six years to reappoint judges in a timely manner, ever growing funding shortages in legal assistance services and a number of inefficiencies in the family law system. There's no doubt that things have to change. Labor's priority is making sure that change is done right and for the right reasons.

The Attorney-General spent most of the past year pursuing legislation that would have abolished the Family Court system in this country altogether. This legislation was introduced without any consultation with the community or the legal profession. I know from personal experience of dealing with members of the legal profession and other members of the community who work in the field of family law and domestic and family violence that the legislation paid no regard to major concerns from members of the community.

Incredibly, the government tried to push these half-baked and damaging reforms through the parliament before the completion of a landmark review into the family law system by the Australian Law Reform Commission. That report is the most comprehensive review of the family law system in four decades, but the government appeared to be intent on ignoring it before the election. They have shown little interest in that report since the election. The ALRC has made 60 recommendations for reform, including that the resolution of family law disputes eventually be returned to the states and territories. As we finalise our position, Labor will carefully consider each of those recommendations in consultation with the many stakeholder groups inside the family law system, including Australian families who have been through the existing system, family lawyers and judges. The Family Court of Australia was established by the Whitlam Labor government over four decades ago. Ensuring that the Family Court system works for Australian families is and always will be a priority for Labor.

I have listened to the contributions from other speakers in this debate. I do agree with one point that Senator Roberts made. That is that suicide, including male suicide, is a big problem in this country. That is something that deserves a proper response. I would like to think that in this term of government—its third term of government—this government might finally take some action to address the skyrocketing rates of suicide in our community.

I have to say that I profoundly disagree with the comments of Senator Roberts in relation to domestic and family violence. I profoundly disagree with Senator Roberts' repeated attempts to pretend that the experience of domestic and family violence of men and women is the same. This is a false equivalence, and it is dangerous. I have no doubt, and I know for a fact, that there are instances where men are the victims of domestic and family violence. But any fair assessment, based on the empirical evidence that Senator Roberts claims to care about, shows that far more women and children are affected by domestic violence and are the victims of domestic violence where the perpetrator is a male. If Senator Roberts is in any doubt about that fact, I invite him to join me to meet with the number of domestic and family violence services that I have worked with closely on the Gold Coast, in Brisbane, in Central Queensland and in North Queensland. I want to pay tribute to the incredible work that those services do, often without anywhere near the kind of resourcing that they need to cope with the influx of women and children fleeing domestic violence. I want to pay tribute to them for their efforts.

Domestic and family violence is a serious problem in our community, no matter how many times we talk about it. Men have a particular responsibility for changing the culture and for stopping domestic violence. There is no doubt that men are by far the major perpetrators of domestic and family violence. It's incumbent upon all male senators in this chamber to take particular responsibility and to show leadership to make sure that men stop doing it. It does Senator Roberts and men generally no favours to have One Nation continually perpetrate myths that the impact of domestic and family violence is the same on women as it is with men. They are vastly different. The sooner that One Nation can stop perpetrating these myths the better.