Federal Government legislation putting the safety of women and children experiencing family violence at risk

Women’s Legal Services Australia (WLSA) calls on the Federal Attorney-General to prioritise the safety of women and kids affected by domestic violence in proposed reforms to the family law system.

The Federal Attorney-General today introduced in the Senate legislation aimed at significantly reforming the family law system. Under these proposed reforms, self-represented parents in Parramatta and one other location will be able to have their parenting disputes resolved through a pilot tribunal program known as “parenting management hearings”.

Parents will need special permission to have a lawyer represent them at a hearing, and the hearings will deal with complex matters involving family violence and child abuse. Decisions made at the hearings are binding on parents.

WLSA has concerns regarding how the planned changes may impact women and their children affected by domestic violence. WLSA Representative and CEO of Women’s Legal Service Queensland, Angela Lynch says:

“We know at least 50% of matters that go before the family court involve domestic violence. In these cases there is an unequal power balance. When facing her abuser in this context a woman faces a disadvantage”

“A fundamental way that victims can be protected is by having lawyers advocating for them in hearings instead of having to deal directly with their abuser.”

Ms Lynch acknowledges that with lengthy Family Court of Australia waiting periods, alternative ways of responding to these issues must be explored.

“We need to reform the family court system by putting the safety of women at the forefront of any reforms. We can see the bill goes some way to respond to the risks faced by women and children experiencing violence but also creates barriers to a fundamental protection – legal representation.”

You can read our media release in response to the announcement here

You can read the Government’s announcement here

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An end to direct questioning by abusive partners in family law proceedings

Women’s Legal Services Australia (WLSA) welcomes the Australian Government’s announcement that it will be introducing legislation to amend the Family Law Act 1975 to prohibit the direct cross-examination of victims of violence in family law proceedings.

Being directly questioned in court by an abusive ex-partner is not only traumatising it also affects the victim’s ability to give evidence.  This can prevent important information being made available to the court to protect children from violence in family law proceedings. Ending the cross-examination by violent ex-partners is a practical and important step to empower victims to give evidence without fear.

WLSA looks forwards to further detail being provided about the implementation of these critically important amendments, including in relation to how the reforms will be funded.  Proper funding to implement these amendments will be essential to success.

The Government has also announced additional funding for Community Legal Centres, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services and the family law court system. WLSA welcomes greater investment in these areas, particularly additional funding for appropriately skilled family consultants in family law matters and for additional domestic units to deliver integrated specialist legal and social support to survivors of family violence. We look forward to hearing more detail in relation to these announcements.

The Government also announced a comprehensive review into the Family Law Act 1975, to be conducted by the Australian Law Reform Commission. WLSA is interested in learning more details about the proposed review and urges genuine consultation with the sector, in particular those organisations working on the front line with survivors of family violence, from the outset. The voices of women and children affected by violence must be strongly represented in the review process.

You can read our media release in response to the announcement here

You can read the Australian Government’s announcement here