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Thursday, 28 June 2018
Page: 6855

Ms HENDERSON (Corangamite) (16:35): I rise today to commend the Turnbull government on its introduction into the parliament of the Family Law Amendment (Family Violence and Cross-examination of Parties) Bill, which will, in specific and serious circumstances, prohibit the direct cross-examination of victims of family violence by the perpetrator or alleged perpetrator during family law proceedings. This is incredibly important reform, and I want to particularly commend the Prime Minister, the Attorney-General and the Minister for Women for their support and leadership on this very important issue. I would also like to acknowledge the work of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs, a committee I chaired last year, which recommended this reform in its 2017 report A better family law system tosupport and protect those affectedby family violence.

Directly facing a perpetrator or alleged perpetrator of family violence compounds the trauma of that violence and can also impact on the ability of a victim to give clear evidence in legal proceedings. As I said when our report was tabled, in every suburb, in every town and in every city across Australia, family violence is a scourge. It affects families and individuals in horrendous and insidious ways. Leaving a violent relationship is an overwhelmingly difficult process which may involve significant risk to those affected, including children, of financial pressures, relocation and emotional turmoil.

Some people, of course, are unable to leave a violent relationship, and that can also lead to tragic consequences. This morning on ABC Radio we heard an interview with a woman who was still suffering the trauma of being directly cross-examined by her former spouse some eight years ago, a perpetrator of serious family violence. She is one of many women across Australia who feels that justice has been done. The law will be changed, and this will prevent many other women from enduring this sort of trauma in the future.

The prohibition will apply where there are convictions, where there are charges or where final family violence orders are in place between the parties. Courts will also have the discretion to prohibit direct cross-examination in cases where family violence is alleged. If a court does not exercise that discretion, it will be mandatory for the court to apply other protections such as the use of video links or screens in the court room. In cases where direct cross-examination is prohibited under these amendments, cross-examination must be conducted by a legal representative. Naturally, parties will be able to obtain their own legal representation in these proceedings; however, they'll also have access to representation through legal aid commissions when that is not possible. The government is working closely with National Legal Aid regarding implementations of the bill.

As I said, this is an incredibly important reform and it builds on the many other ways in which our government is taking very, very strong action to protect women in particular and to address the issue of family violence. Certainly, in the budget this year, the Turnbull government has shown zero tolerance to violence against women and is committing another $54.4 million to services for women affected by violence and for online safety initiatives. This includes $11.5 million for the national sexual assault, domestic family violence counselling service, 1800RESPECT, over two years. The 1800RESPECT service does an incredible job. There is $6.7 million to maintain funding for DV-alert to continue its domestic violence response training for community frontline workers and $14.2 million over four years for the Office of the eSafety Commissioner to help make cyberspace safe for women. I very much commend this bill, and I look forward to speaking further about it in the next session of parliament.