23 June 2021
Let me begin by commending my friend the outstanding member for Moreton for tabling the Family Law Amendment (A Step Towards a Safer Family Law System) Bill 2020 and for his work as a member of the Joint Select Committee on Australia's Family Law System.
On Thursday 20 February 2020, the entire nation was shaken to its core by the brutal murder of Hannah Clarke and her three children, Aaliyah, Laianah and Trey. In the days after their murders, I rose in this very chamber and said that the things that are happening in our streets are everybody's nightmare and they are everybody's business to fix. There were a lot of promises made by this Morrison government in the wake of Hannah's murder, but so far only the member for Moreton has had the spine to listen to the cries for help from Australian women and to stand up and take action. While the member for Moreton was drafting this private member's bill to protect children from being manipulated and spending time with abusive family members, the Morrison government was busy dismantling the only specialised court in this country with the expertise to deal with difficult family law matters. The abolition of the specialised Family Court is a stain on the Morrison government, and it really removes any credibility that they claim to have on being about family values.
There is a wide misconception that equal shared parental responsibility means equal shared care—that is, that the parents will spend equal time with their children. This misconception sets up false expectations that parents have a right to guaranteed equal time with their children. This bill would remove section 61DA of the Family Law Act, which provides a presumption of equal shared parental responsibility in parenting matters.
This bill is just a small piece of the huge puzzle in our mission to eradicate domestic violence from Australia, but it is a really important piece that we need to continue pushing for. It's too late, of course, to save Hannah's life and the lives of her children, but this bill would save the lives of countless other women and their children who find themselves in similar circumstances.
There is no denying that our family law system is broken and desperately needs fixing. I have spoken to my local community centres, who are absolutely bursting at the seams trying to keep up with northsiders who are currently experiencing domestic violence. It has gotten so much worse since the pandemic set in. I recently spoke to another community organisation that did food runs during the COVID lockdowns as an excuse—just so that they could continue to keep in contact with the women and children who were experiencing domestic violence. Northside Connect, in Nundah, had to put on an extra staff member to assist their dedicated family lawyer because, out of the pandemic, her workload had become so big it was too difficult for one person to manage. SANDBAG, in Sandgate, has processed over 200 police referrals for domestic violence counselling. They are well on their way to tripling the number of domestic violence referrals they received last year—triple, in one year. They have over 80 women on their waitlist for counselling. These women are going to have to wait six months to receive any kind of counselling support because they just do not have enough federal funding to hire staff at the moment.
Can you imagine building up the courage to leave a violent relationship and then being told you will need to wait six months to receive any kind of counselling to help you move forward? We know that, when these women leave, they have already spent months, if not years, building themselves up. When they leave, they are at breaking point. That is when they need the most assistance, and we know from cases like Hannah's that that is when they are at the most risk of violence themselves. And yet despite urgings from MPs like the member for Morton and me, and despite a number of parliamentary debates on this issue, we have nothing constructive by way of legislative reform coming out of this government and we have nothing meaningful coming forward by way of financial support for these initiatives.
On 5 May this year I peacefully walked through Sandgate with other 4017 locals to send a clear message that domestic surveillance is not tolerated in our community. The Peaceful Walk in Sandgate is one of the outstanding events in the calendar out of the Einbunpin Lagoon area. The Queensland Police support us; they do absolutely everything; they finance it. SANDBAG, one of the best institutions on the north side, leads it. Ordinary Northsiders come together to say, 'Not now, not ever.'