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Wednesday, 24 March 2021
Page: 3284

Mr TEHAN (WannonMinister for Trade, Tourism and Investment) (09:54): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Everyone has the right to feel safe and to live free from violence. Despite this, the incidence of family violence remains unacceptably high, and victims continue to experience profound physical, financial and psychological impacts. The scourge of family violence has no place in our society. Every single death as a result of family violence is one too many.

That is why the government has invested so heavily in addressing domestic violence, with $340 million in funding as part of the Fourth Action Plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children, as well as a $150 million COVID-19 Domestic Violence Support Package in 2020 to respond to the impacts of the pandemic.

TheFamily Law Amendment (Federal Family Violence Orders) Bill 2021 adds further support to these efforts, ensuring greater protections for vulnerable Australian families experiencing family violence.

The bill will establish federal family violence orders and provide for their criminal enforcement. This reinforces the government's recognition of family violence as not a private matter but a criminal matter of public concern. Victims of family violence who have matters before the family courts will no longer need to separately go to a state or territory court to seek enforceable protection and will be able to apply for a federal family violence order.

In the 2020-21 budget, this government announced a significant investment of over $140 million in the legal system. This investment includes $1.8 million over four years to support the implementation and enforcement of federal family violence orders. This funding will stand up effective information-sharing arrangements between the courts and police, support service of the new orders and enable important training and awareness raising.

This reform adds other measures implemented by this government to improve safety within the family law system. These include banning the direct cross-examination of victims in family law proceedings and establishing specialist domestic violence units and family advocacy and support services, which provide legal advice and services to those affected by family violence.

More recently, we have also invested:

$13.5 million to pilot a systematic approach to identifying and managing family safety risks in the federal family law courts, and establish a dedicated family violence list for high-risk cases, and

$10.4 million to co-locate state and territory child protection and policing officials in family law courts across Australia, to improve information-sharing between the family law, family violence and child protection systems.

The bill's new federal family violence orders would offer stronger protections in relation to family violence than current family law personal protection injunctions that can be made by the family law courts.

To enforce a personal protection injunction, the victim must bring a civil action against the offender in court. This can be difficult for the victim and can be accompanied by an escalation of conflict.

This bill will instead provide for police enforcement and criminal prosecution of federal family violence order breaches. This is a critical measure to improve the safety of protected persons, including children. It also delivers against recommendations of the Australian and New South Wales Law Reform Commissions in the 2010 report: Family violence: anational legal response and Victoria's 2016 Royal Commission into Family Violence.

The bill will allow a person to apply for a federal family violence order where they have proceedings before a family law court. These courts will also be able to make a federal family violence order on their own motion. The new orders will be available in family violence circumstances only, where a statutory test has been met. The test has been modelled on those for the issue of final family violence orders in the states and territories. The primary consideration in deciding to issue the order is the relevant person's safety and welfare.

In a similar way to state and territory family violence orders, the new federal family violence orders will be able to restrict certain behaviours, communication and contact with protected persons. The standard conditions have been developed in consultation with state and territory police to ensure that they can be enforced in practice and proven in court.

Federal family violence orders will protect children, parents and other persons who have care responsibilities for a child, and parties to a marriage. These are the same categories of persons who can be protected under a personal protection injunction.

Federal family violence orders will benefit families who are before a family law court and would otherwise need to commence separate proceedings in a state or territory court to obtain a criminally enforceable order.

State and territory courts will, appropriately, continue to be the primary avenue for victims to seek family violence protection orders. However, this bill will reduce the need for vulnerable families to navigate multiple courts when they are already before a family law court, saving them time and money, and allowing victims and survivors to access protection when they require it most.

The bill will allow federal family violence orders to be varied, revoked or suspended where there is a change in circumstances or new material before the court. It will also allow state and territory courts to revoke or suspend federal family violence orders when they are making or varying a state family violence order. This will allow flexibility for victims to seek new or varied orders in a variety of fora, and for courts to ensure that appropriate protections are in place.

This government values the ongoing partnership with states and territories in our joint aim to keep vulnerable Australians safe from family violence.

States and territories have agreed that that the new orders will be recognised on the National Domestic Violence Order Scheme and enforced by state and territory police. This agreement followed significant consultation with the states and territories, who came together to co-design the policy underlying this bill.

Recognising federal family violence orders on the National Domestic Violence Order Scheme will result in these orders being treated as local orders in the state or territory in which they are breached. This means that law enforcement will be able to enforce the new orders using the local processes with which they are familiar, and the penalty of the state or territory in which the offence is prosecuted would apply.

A deferral on the commencement of measures related to federal family violence orders of up to 12 months after royal assent will allow time for states and territories to enact the legislative amendments needed for recognition on this scheme to occur.

Where the Australian Federal Police is enforcing a breach using Commonwealth enforcement powers, the bill provides a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment or 120 penalty units.

Importantly, personal protection injunctions will remain available where a person requires civil protection. This includes protection for persons who do not meet the threshold for a federal family violence order, safeguarding against any gaps in their protection.

The bill recognises that a strong system of state and territory family violence orders is already in place, and is designed to operate concurrently with that system.

The bill includes important safeguards to ensure there is a clear delineation between federal family violence orders, personal protection injunctions, and state and territory and family violence orders. This includes restricting a court from making a federal family violence order where there is a state family violence order in force between the same parties, and from making a personal protection injunction that is inconsistent with a state family violence order. Access to orders on the National Police Reference System will be available to the family law courts for this purpose.

To further the government's broader family law reform agenda and to protect vulnerable Australian families, the bill also enhances the protection for registrars in proceedings before the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia, and the Family Court of Western Australia. It does so by conferring registrars with the same protection as a judge when conducting conferences related to family law or child support proceedings, including those conferences involving people who are not parties to the proceedings—for example, grandparents.

These changes will support increased and broadened use of alternative dispute resolution. This will support more tailored, flexible and early resolutions for vulnerable families, and free up judges to focus on more complex and specialised matters. In turn, this change will provide better outcomes for families by enabling matters to be dealt with quickly, efficiently, and cheaply as possible.

The bill demonstrates the government's commitment to continuing to improve the capacity of the family law system to provide effective outcomes to vulnerable families.

By allowing victims of family violence to obtain a criminally enforceable protection order, this bill sends a strong and clear message that family violence is unacceptable and that it is criminal behaviour.

Debate adjourned.