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Janet on changes to family violence legislation

Speeches in Parliament
Janet Rice 13 Aug 2018

I'm very pleased to rise to speak to the Family Law Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill 2017. The epidemic of family violence in this country is reaching crisis point. It sometimes feels like we can't go more than a few hours without hearing of a woman who's been murdered by a member of her family or hearing of a story of a woman and her children being terrorised by their partner and father. Indeed, it was only a couple of weeks ago that four out of seven of the top stories on The Age website—four out of seven—were of women murdered by men, three of them by their current partner or ex-partner. We know that domestic and family violence doesn't discriminate. It affects people from every walk of life. It disproportionately affects women. We know that domestic and family violence is the No. 1 cause of homelessness for women and their children. We know that one woman is killed per week, on average, by a current or former partner.

So we need to say it like it is: this is an epidemic. Women and their children are being terrorised in their homes—in the place where we expect to feel the safest. Yet in the 2018 budget there was no new funding to tackle sexual assault and male violence in the home. We still don't have adequate funding for the essential frontline services for people experiencing domestic and family violence—services which cannot keep up with the surge in demand. You would think that, facing such an epidemic of violence, the government would spring into action with a response that matches the scale of the problem.

Instead, what have we got from the Turnbull government? We have an amendment to the Family Law Act that has no increase in resources for its implementation. There is a lot of good in this bill. The aims of this bill are good. But the practical effect of this bill will shift the existing cumbersome workload from one court that has more work than it can handle to another court, and without any extra resourcing. You cannot solve the epidemic of family violence by passing some amendments to a bill without investing resources into implementation. Indeed, the Law Council of Australia has said that because this bill doesn't come with any increased funding to state and territory courts, the changes proposed: (1) are unlikely to have any practical effect; and (2) may result in list blow-outs in the children's courts. This is what this bill is going to achieve. This is what not increasing resourcing to family violence ends up achieving: next to nothing.

The Greens want to see our courts and legal aid services appropriately resourced. They must be appropriately resourced to adapt to the changes proposed by this bill. On top of that, the officers of the court must be appropriately trained in family law. They must also be trained so they can appropriately interact with children and young people, many of whom have experienced trauma. This requires extra resourcing, but extra resourcing is not there as part of the legislation. Changing elements of the law, as proposed in this bill, is a positive step, but it is largely redundant if the courts and the legal services are not given the resources they need to implement the changes and to do their jobs properly.

One woman is killed per week, on average, by a current or former partner. We must strive to honour their memories through action, and that means investing in the legal services, investing in the crisis centres and preventive programs that save lives, and improving and investing in the legal system and the courts to ensure that survivors of family violence are given the safety and the justice that they deserve.

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