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Wednesday, 25 November 2015
Page: 8975


Senator RYAN (VictoriaAssistant Cabinet Secretary) (15:39): I table the explanatory memorandum relating to the bill and move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

The Family Law Amendment (Financial Agreements and Other Measures) Bill will improve the operation of the financial agreements regime, strengthen laws against international parental child abduction, improve the operation of the family law courts and will also amend the Family Law Act 1975 to enhance protections for victims of family violence.

Family violence measures

Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. It is therefore timely to note that this Bill contains measures that will improve the family law system's response to family violence.

Family violence is a serious social issue that affects the health and well-being of thousands of Australians and has far reaching effects on the Australian community as a whole. It is the Government's firm view that family violence and child abuse are unacceptable and require an urgent response.

Measures in this Bill will enable state or territory courts making an interim family violence protection order to suspend or vary existing parenting orders until either a time specified by the court, or another court order is made. Currently, such suspension or variation expires after 21 days. This has the potential to put at renewed risk those who have been affected by family violence.

This amendment represents the first step in responding to the recommendations of the Family Law Council's Interim report on Families with Complex Needs and the Intersection of the Family Law and Child Protection Systems andis consistent with a similar recommendation made by Victorian State Coroner, Judge Ian L Gray, in the inquest into the death of Luke Batty.

Other measures in this Bill will strengthen courts' powers to dismiss applications that are unfounded, an abuse of process, frivolous or vexatious. This will assist in ensuring that the family law system is not used as a mechanism to perpetuate abuse.

Financial agreement measures

A key aspect of this Bill are amendments to the family law system's financial agreement regime to better enable families to resolve family law disputes outside of the courtroom.

Binding Financial Agreements are out-of-court, private agreements between people that outline how property and other financial matters will be dealt with in the event of the breakdown of a marriage or de facto relationship. Enabling separating couples to reach their own agreements allows them to take responsibility for, and provides them with certainty about, their own financial affairs. However, recent cases have created uncertainty surrounding the finality of Binding Financial Agreements.

Measures in this Bill will resolve uncertainties around requirements for entering into, interpreting and enforcing agreements. Provisions in this Bill will also make changes to the coverage of spousal maintenance matters in agreements, introduce a statement of principles to outline their binding nature, and reinforce the binding nature of the agreements to offer certainty to parties.

These measures are intended to ensure that prospective, current or former parties to a marriage, or a de facto relationship, can take responsibility for resolving their financial and maintenance matters with certainty, without involving a court.

Parental child abduction measures

Measures in this Bill will strengthen Australia's laws against international parental child abduction by introducing new offences relating to the wrongful retention of a child overseas. This is consistent with Australia's obligations under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (the Hague Convention).

Amendments will also extend the location order provisions in the Act so that anyone, including the Commonwealth, State and Territory Central Authorities, can, for the purpose of the Hague Convention, apply for an order to locate children wrongfully removed from, or retained outside, Australia.

Operation of the courts

Measures in this Bill are designed to improve the operation and efficiency of the family law courts.

Notably, this Bill will modernise the arrest powers provided by the Family Law Act.

The existing arrest powers in the Family Law Act are broad, and lack significant mechanisms to guide arresters on the appropriate boundaries of their power. This amendment will add appropriate safeguards, consistent with the approach adopted for the other federal courts, and in the Crimes Act.

For example, while currently the court may authorise any person to make an arrest and in doing so, authorise the person to use reasonable force and enter premises, these amendments will explicitly restrict the categories of persons who may exercise powers under the arrest provisions.

Technical and minor amendments

Technical and minor amendments will improve the operation of the Family Law Act, including by correcting technical defects, ensuring consistent language and removing redundant provisions.

Conclusion

The measures in this Bill will enhance the capacity of the family law system to address emerging issues identified by the Government in its partnership with the family law sector. In particular, the amendments will enable courts to offer better protection to victims of family violence and greater clarity to separating couples attempting to resolve disputes out of court.

Ordered that further consideration of this bill be adjourned to the first sitting day of the next period of sittings, in accordance with standing order 111.