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Monday, 10 September 2018
Page: 8365


Ms CLAYDON (Newcastle) (13:20): It certainly gives me some pleasure to stand in the House of Representatives today to speak at least to the substance of the Family Law Amendment (Family Violence and Cross-examination of Parties) Bill 2018. There have been some terrific contributions to the debate so far. But I also stand here to support very strongly the amendment moved by the member for Isaacs, Labor's shadow Attorney-General, which seeks to ensure that there will be adequate funding available for legal aid in Australia, which is of course the essential part of being able to implement this legislation.

I listened carefully to the words that the member for McMillan spoke before me, and certainly there is longstanding support for the prohibition of cross-examination of victims of family violence by perpetrators of violence. I say that there is some longstanding bipartisan support. I should correct that and say that Labor has, for two years now, been calling for this very bill to come before the House, and it is terrific that the government is now on board in trying to provide a legislative framework to ensure that the ongoing practice of cross-examination of domestic abuse survivors by their perpetrators is put to a halt—that there will be a stop to this utterly shameful practice that has been going on in our legal system for far too long now.

But I don't think anybody in this House should kid themselves about the level of concern that remains outside this parliament about the fact that we have courts that are already feeling so stretched by the under-resourcing of our family courts in Australia now. We know that increasingly the Federal Circuit Court is hearing family law matters, which comprise some 80 per cent of its case load nowadays, but the Family Court of Australia—coupled with the Federal Circuit Court, of course—is carrying the brunt of family law matters in Australia. Both of those courts have expressed, through their former Chief Judge and Chief Justices, grave concerns about the lack of adequate resourcing of our Commonwealth courts in Australia.

I concur wholeheartedly. It remains a matter of great concern to me that we really still haven't faced up to that very obvious shortcoming in our legal system—that is, if we want those courts to work as they should, they need adequate staff, resources and tools to do so. This piece of legislation goes some way towards providing some tools for judges to be able to insist that unrepresented litigants have legal representatives. That is not unreasonable. Indeed, it's something that I think most people in this House would suggest is a good thing. But, in order to get to that point, we've got to ensure adequate resourcing, as I said. Indeed, we heard from speakers previously that, in the most recent inquiry of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee into this legislation, even the government's own senators stood in unison with Labor senators in calling for a guarantee of additional funding for legal aid before this bill passes this parliament.

We don't have that guarantee here today as we debate this in the House of Representatives, so all of the Labor speakers on this side of the House will be putting the government on notice about this glaring omission from the legislation to date. Indeed, we have called for this additional funding to be guaranteed. There have been no such assurances provided as yet; hence the amendment put by the member for Isaacs earlier on in this debate. It is most regretful that both the former Prime Minister and, clearly, it would seem, the current Prime Minister, along with the Attorney-General, have so far chosen to ignore the fact that, without funding, you cannot implement this legislation in the manner in which it is intended.

As Deputy Chair of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs, I spent much of last year taking evidence from men and women across Australia with regards to the family law system and how it might better support and, indeed, protect those affected by family violence. We made a number of recommendations that would go some way towards providing an accessible, equitable and responsive family law system which better prioritises the safety of those affected by family violence.

I'm very pleased to say that one of the very strong recommendations from that committee was about ensuring that perpetrators of violence were then not able to retraumatise their victims by fronting up to court and insisting on being the person to directly cross-examine their former partners. We heard some very, very troubling evidence as to the impacts of the current laws, which allow self-represented perpetrators to cross-examine victims during court proceedings. Indeed, the evidence that was brought before our committee from both the survivors of family violence and all of the legal practitioners who work in this area was so overwhelming that it's of no surprise to anybody in the House that that committee, back in December last year, asked for the government to bring forward this legislation much sooner rather than later to ensure that we provide a more adequate level of safety for what is predominantly—overwhelmingly—women who are in this situation of having violent partners going on to cross-examine them in family law matters.

As I said, I am delighted that this bill comes before the House. It is deeply regretful that there is not adequate funding attached to this. I am absolutely clear that this is just one of many pieces of reform that is necessary in order to provide better protection for women and victims of family violence in our family law system. I draw the House's attention to the tragic fact that the register of women killed by violent acts this year alone now stands at 46. We are at week 36 of this year, and 46 Australian women are now dead as a result of violence perpetrated against them.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43 and may be resumed at a later hour.