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Monday, 10 September 2018
Page: 8363


Mr BROADBENT (McMillan) (13:10): I rise to speak on the Family Law Amendment (Family Violence and Cross-examination of Parties) Bill 2018. If you listened closely to the member for Moreton's address to the parliament—previous to this interruption—the member for Moreton, as a lawyer, made it very clear that this isn't as simple as we would like to think it is and that there are areas around funding that need to be addressed which the opposition have said that they are prepared to address if they are in government.

But I want to talk about the process of how we in this parliament get to an issue around personal cross-examination of victims by their alleged perpetrators in family law matters. It doesn't just pop into the parliament; it doesn't just arrive here as a bill. Clearly, there a number of people in our community who have experienced firsthand and observed the trauma of those people who have their perpetrator in a family law case examine them directly. The member for Moreton went through in detail the consequences of that for an individual, usually women, and the retraumatisation of what had happened within that family household. And groups and committees have raised this in law reform groups. What I am saying is that we don't make a change to the common law in Australia without due diligence and consideration. We go through a lot of hoops and do a lot of checks to get to a point where we want to make a change to what happens in a courtroom or a family court. We don't do it by chance.

It is simple to understand that a woman in a courtroom being cross-examined by the person who actually perpetrated the act on her must be something that would traumatise the strongest of women—that they are going to have to relive the situation. We don't know what the innuendo or the background of a question from the perpetrator might be. We wouldn't have a clue. But she would know. She would know exactly what is being put to her. She would know exactly the trauma she is facing. She would know how she and her children felt at the time. Then she has to live through it again, but this time in front of an audience—this time in front of a whole lot of people who are going to report on the perpetrator's question and her response. The member for Moreton talked about women vomiting on the way to court and women settling out of court just to avoid cross-examination. I don't think you can ever come to the point of knowing and understanding unless you have been inside the person's head, which we haven't been. For those of us like me who haven't been through this process—a process which thousands of families have gone through—I don't think you can ever understand the trauma and the invasion.

The community has brought this forward to the parliament of Australia through the channels that were necessary. Eventually, the Attorney-General is asked to put something together that we can put into law that will protect those people being cross-examined, at the same time adhering to the point of law where it is right that someone can be cross-examined, only with issues about by whom and at what time and in a timely manner. If we do that, we'll have achieved a lot, because the threat of direct cross-examination is being removed by this legislation. It didn't just come to the House. It went to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee on 13 August 2018, and in its inquiry the committee recommended that the bill be passed subject to details regarding funding of the bill being made public prior to the commencement of debate in the Senate.

For the broader community to understand, and for me to understand, there are issues around how you will fund people who can't get legal aid to get a lawyer to cross-examine on their behalf, but who are not in a financial position to hire a lawyer themselves to cross-examine on their behalf. I don't think it's unreasonable to find a way that they be funded through legal aid with a variation to the criteria that are currently in place for people to gain access to legal aid. If we have to go that far in this country in regard to another issue around family violence, then we have to do it. This bill achieves the aim but doesn't specifically say how it will be carried out. It puts in the framework for the courts. It puts in the ability of the courts to make decisions about how the court will act in these cases and what recommendations it will make. So the basis and determination of the bill is correct. The community has decided that it's not good enough for a perpetrator to be able to cross-examine the victim, the person that's been hurt.

So I put to the parliament today that we need to support this bill. There needs to be reasonable consideration of where the bill will go into the future, and there needs to be monitoring in the courts, by the courts, of the outcome of this legislation. We don't just put it through the parliament and set and forget. There needs to be reporting back to say whether the legislation has worked. Will somebody review this legislation in the future so that women, in particular, do not face this cross-examination, and so that the court system is working more effectively and efficiently and more fairly on behalf of those who have suffered the consequences of family violence? If we can do that, we'll have achieved a lot. We'll have achieved something that hundreds and hundreds of people have desired that the parliament do. We can do it in a bipartisan manner. The only disappointment I have with the member for Moreton is that he had to bring the politics of the day into an issue that's going to last in people's lives for years and years to come. We're doing something now that will make a difference to women in Australia for years to come, in the full knowledge that they will be protected by the courts.

The flow-on of that, of course, is that they are protected by the Parliament of Australia, because this parliament is deciding on your behalf. This parliament is making a decision on behalf of the women of Australia in the Family Court who have experienced family violence. We're recognising that, and we're also saying: 'Oh, by the way, we have a responsibility too. We have a responsibility on behalf of our broader community.'

With those few words, I support this legislation. I expect that the opposition will support this legislation. I know that the crossbenchers will support the legislation. There will be some criticism along the way, but I hope that, in the genuineness of the spirit that is behind this legislation, it will be supported unanimously by this parliament.