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Monday, 9 November 2020
Page: 9091

Mr DREYFUS (Isaacs) (17:12): Family violence is a scourge in our nation. It is present in a disturbing number of family law matters in both the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court. During the COVID-19 pandemic the problem of family violence has worsened, with more violence being reported this year and greater difficulty accessing services for both victims-survivors and perpetrators. Labor has been fighting to make preventing and responding to family violence a national priority, and we are continuing that fight.

This Family Law Amendment (Risk Screening Protections) Bill 2020 provides legislative support for a domestic violence risk-screening pilot program being rolled out by the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia. This program, called the Lighthouse Project, is being trialled in three court registries: Adelaide, Brisbane and Parramatta. The Lighthouse Project will screen for safety risks in all applications and responses for parenting-only orders filed with the courts. Specifically, this new pilot program aims to deliver improved outcomes for families in crisis using the courts through three key measures: new processes for the screening of all new matters for family violence; the triaging of those matters by a specialist team, with matters sent to the most appropriate case management pathways based on an assessment risk and with additional support and safety provided to those families; and the creation of a specialist list, called the Evatt List, with appropriately trained and skilled staff focusing on supporting at-risk families through the court system, supported by early information gathering and intervention when required.

The bill also amends the Family Law Act 1975 to support the Lighthouse Project pilot by establishing protections for sensitive information generated through the screening program and by conferring certain legal immunities on court workers involved in the safety risk screening. The bill also ensures that the sensitive information collected through the screening process is confidential and inadmissible in evidence in proceedings except in limited and appropriate circumstances. The Lighthouse Project is in part a response to many recommendations to improve the family law system and family safety that have been made over many years. These recommendations have been set out in reports that include the Chisholm report for the Attorney-General's Department in 2009; the Family Law Council report on families with complex needs of 2015; the Henderson parliamentary inquiry of 2017; and the Australian Law Reform Commission discussion paper Review of the family law system from 2018.

More specifically, the Lighthouse Project has been put in place in response to the report by Women's Legal Services Australia in October last year called Safety first in family law. Women's Legal Services Australia are to be commended for their outstanding work on behalf of family violence victims-survivors and for their powerful advocacy for meaningful reform of the family law system to keep women and children safe. At its launch in October last year, the Safety First in Family Law program was strongly endorsed by family violence campaigner and former Australian of the Year Rosie Batty. Ms Batty, who was driven to campaign to end family violence after her 11-year-old son, Luke Batty, was murdered by his father, said at the time of the program launch that it was critical for the government to act urgently to reform the family law system. She reminded the government:

Nearly 70 percent of matters lodged in the family courts involve allegations of family violence, but the system is not set up to deal with this—and neither are the many professionals who work within the system

The Lighthouse Project was funded as part of the 2019-20 MYEFO, announced by the government on 17 December 2019. During brief consultations with stakeholders on this bill, there was general agreement that the pilot program should proceed as a matter of urgency.

It is regrettable but unsurprising that the Morrison government has taken so long to introduce this necessary bill and to bring it on for debate. It should have been done in the first sitting week of the year. This government and its Attorney-General seem to have found plenty of time to proceed with their pet ideological projects during the course of this tumultuous year, from trying to shut down the rights of injured Australians to enforce their legal rights through class actions to hurling the resources of the Attorney-General's Department and the Commonwealth's legal team behind Clive Palmer's failed attack on Western Australia's borders. Indeed, the Morrison government hasn't been so busy that the Prime Minister himself couldn't find a week to go to Queensland to throw all he could into the spectacularly failed state election campaign of the Liberal National Party there. It's all a matter of priorities, and this government has made its priorities all too clear.

But, that being said, Labor is pleased that, almost a year after committing to this measure, the government has finally got around to legislating for it. Of course, passage of the legislation does not guarantee the success of the Lighthouse Project. It will simply enable that program to be rolled out at last. It is up to the government to ensure that the project is implemented properly and that the project is successful. If the pilot is shown to be successful, we expect the Morrison government to immediately provide the additional funding required to roll the program out across all Family Court and Federal Circuit Court registries across the nation as a matter of urgent priority.

This bill represents another step in the fight against the scourge and the national shame that is family violence, but much more needs to be done. We need more federal government support for frontline government services, including refuges and emergency accommodation for women and their children fleeing family violence. We need more federal government support for legal assistance services, including women's legal services, which play a vital role for women and their families who are at risk of or suffering from family violence. Indeed, as I have made clear today, the Lighthouse Project, which this bill provides legislative support for, was largely developed with the expertise of Women's Legal Services Australia.

We also need the federal government to do more to prevent family violence occurring and more to provide practical support to families suffering from family violence. This means that we need a government that is willing to set appropriate standards, including standards that demonstrate respect for women and consequences for those who do not show that respect. The Gillard government made domestic and family violence a national priority. The National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children was established under the last Labor government, which outlined the roles, responsibilities and priorities for federal governments to respond to domestic and family violence in Australia. With this plan came funding for frontline services, research and primary prevention. Labor is strongly committed to the prevention of domestic, family and sexual violence in Australia, and our record speaks for itself. I commend this bill to the House and I move the second reading amendment circulated in my name in the following terms:

That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House:

(1)recognises the ongoing scourge of family violence in Australia;

(2)acknowledges there has been a surge in family violence since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic; and

(3)notes that:

(a)in its Budget, the Government announced unprecedented spending of hundreds of billions of dollars;

(b)this spending will contribute to unprecedented deficits and a national debt in excess of one trillion dollars; and

(c)despite this spending, the Government has not done nearly enough to support frontline services carrying out their vital functions of protecting women and children facing the threat of family violence".

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mrs Wicks ): Is the amendment seconded?

Dr Leigh: I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.