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Wednesday, 22 August 2018
Page: 8097


Ms LAMB (Longman) (11:46): I rise today to speak on the Family Law Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill 2018. It's a bill that seeks to change how the family law system operates when it comes to cases involving family violence. I've stood up in this chamber a number of times to speak out against family violence and to call for greater action by this government in this space. I recognise that the government has listened to Labor's representations and introduced a bill, for all intents and purposes, with good intentions.

This bill comes as a suite of changes to Australia's family law system are being worked on and debated currently. I must say that this is truly welcomed, particularly in my electorate of Longman. I've been doing a lot of work in this space in my electorate alongside a number of parents, my community and groups and organisations. I welcome and thank the shadow minister for human services, Linda Burney, on her support in working with my electorate in this space. From this consultative work that I have done, it's become very apparent that there is a significant amount of work that still needs to be done. Whilst this bill is a small step forward, it's a step forward nonetheless. As I mentioned, it is a very welcome piece of legislation.

I also commend the government for removing certain measures from this bill following the negotiations with Labor. When government and opposition work together in a bipartisan manner, Australia benefits from stronger legislation. I recognise the government for hearing the concerns that Labor raised with the bill as it had initially been drafted by this government. I recognise that that work has been done. As I said, we all benefit when the government and opposition can work together in a bipartisan manner. This issue of family and domestic violence is a space where we must work, where we can, in that manner.

But a number of concerns with this bill do remain. I call on the government to join with Labor to ensure that the bill achieves what it is intended to as effectively as possible. For example, the bill seeks to extend the jurisdiction of state and territory courts in family law matters. While this might very well make it easier for families to navigate a system that is often described as confusing at the best of times, it puts additional pressures on state and territory systems. These are systems that are already overburdened at their current funding levels, let alone picking up additional responsibilities. We need to be very, very careful not to push struggling court systems too far and ensure that they have the capacity for the extra workload that these changes would bring.

I'll highlight some remarks made recently in the Senate inquiry that looked into this bill. The Chief Magistrate of the Local Court of New South Wales recognised these changes and the extra workload that these changes would bring when they presented to the Senate inquiry. They noted:

… if there is an increase in the Local Court's case load … it is essential that enough resources be made available to the Court to respond to the increase in matters before its magistrates. This would include an increase in the number of magistrates appointed to the Court.

Further, due to judicial officers in state and territory courts not regularly exercising their existing Family Law Act jurisdiction, as recognised by the Law Council of Australia in their submission to this inquiry, an expansion of their responsibilities would require that ongoing judicial training accompany amendments. Naturally this isn't free, so I urge the government to take the time to seriously consider the funding implications that arise from the implementation of this family law amendment bill.

I urge the government to work co-operatively with the state and territory systems to ensure that any changes can be made without having an adverse effect or impact on the system, the court officials and, most importantly, the families that are involved. We need to take every step we can to ensure that acts of parliament do not cause more harm than good.

I noted earlier that the government had taken on board the concerns that Labor had raised. The original bill previously contained a measure that would criminalise the breach of personal protection injunctions, PPIs. Following representations from Labor, this has now been removed. In principle, I have to say, Labor does support criminalising breaches of PPI. We support a tough-line approach to preventing domestic and family violence. By making victims bring a civil action in the family law courts to enforce a civil penalty for a breach, the system, in its current state, is putting too much onus on the victims. Victims have often been through deeply damaging and traumatising experiences. I'd like to raise the fact that, in particular, women of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds are often those who suffer most with an experience of domestic or family violence. The damage and traumatisation of these women can be much more significant and can affect them for the rest of their lives.

The government's proposal for criminalisation of PPI breaches contained in this bill, contains serious flaws. More specifically, the changes that would have been applied would have been retrospective. It is democratically unjust to change the law on people who could not possibly have known the potential consequences of their decisions. Further, the bill sought to instate this as a Commonwealth criminal offence whilst having the provision enforced by the state or territory police. Maybe this would be ideal on a theoretical level but, practically, it leaves a lot to be desired. Unfortunately, I have to say that this is typical of government policy—thought bubbles never delve deep enough and never consider implementation.

I'd like to go back to some evidence presented by Senior Sergeant Luke Manhood of Tasmania Police:

… we are supportive of the principles proposed by the bill, we do see some practical issues with the proposal ... For your information, state and territory police … do not routinely enforce the Commonwealth criminal law. In fact, ensuring that the Commonwealth criminal law is routinely enforced is a primary reason for the existence of the Australian Federal Police.

The evidence continues to recognise that, while state and territory police are empowered to address Commonwealth criminal law, there are a number of procedural discrepancies that can often impede this from being put into practice. Tasmania Police ultimately recognise that these issues prevent the measure in this bill from achieving what it sets out to do: enforce breaches. The parliament simply cannot pass a law that just can't be implemented—at least, it cannot be passed until the government has done its job and worked out how to implement it as effectively and as practically as possible.

I will take the opportunity to thank the government for taking Labor's advice and waiting, because, in just a few months, a major Australian Law Reform Commission report into the Family Law Act and the family law system will be released. This report will address how family violence matters are dealt with through the family law system and will likely make some recommendations that more suitably address issues like criminalisation of personal protection injunction breaches. Labor has asked that the government hold off on the measures that I have just explained until the report has been released. As I said, it won't be long before that's released. It makes sense to wait until the report's released and the recommendations are in front of us and we've had some time to look through them. This wouldn't impose a time delay on a change being made, as the criminalisation of PPI breaches in the original bill would not have taken place until long after the release of this report. There's no time delay in waiting at all. Effectively, all Labor has called on the government to do is to take a more considered approach, not to rush things and wait for the evidence. When the report's released early next year, I look forward to working cooperatively with those opposite to ensure the best possible outcomes for victims and all other affected stakeholders.

I've heard some truly heartbreaking stories while consulting with my community on matters of family law and family violence. Many of these people have truly suffered, and I feel it's our duty as parliamentarians to ensure that each and every one of them is afforded the support they deserve. Support can come in many ways. It can come by providing community services, and the funding and resources that those services require, to help people through difficult times—services like CADA, in Caboolture. It can come by legislating a system that provides fairness, equity and protection for victims. As I said earlier, this is just a small step in the significant reforms to the family law system that need to take place.

It's also important to acknowledge the work that the Palaszczuk government and the Queensland police are undertaking, under the leadership of the police minister, Mark Ryan, and Moreton District Superintendent Michael Brady. In my local community, Superintendent Michael Brady has been instrumental in the development of community based programs, in particular the PRADO and It's Your Choice programs, that address domestic violence for all of the Moreton Bay region.

But, as I keep reiterating, still more needs to be done. I'd like to pick up one step in particular, and that is providing paid domestic violence leave as a national employment standard. This is a step that is important in particular to women. The ABS estimates that two out of every three women who experience domestic violence are in the workforce. For those who have experienced domestic violence, this leave would provide for those impacted to have some time to attend their court appearances, to go and seek the legal advice that they need and to make relocation arrangements. That's not easy to do if you've got children at school and you need to pack up and move home, get children resettled and attend medical appointments. These are really important parts of recovering from domestic and family violence, and access to paid domestic violence leave would provide that very much needed financial support for those women in the workplace.

I'd like to take this opportunity to ask the government as a matter of urgency to join with Labor and legislate 10 days paid domestic violence and family leave to reduce that fear that many victims experience of losing their job and the financial disadvantage of going without pay during this time when they're attending court, getting legal advice, taking care of their children and going to medical appointments. I ask the government as a matter of urgency to legislate 10 days paid domestic violence leave for victims immediately.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Vasta ): I thank the honourable member for Longman and welcome her back to parliament.