Nov 24, 2011

Consideration of Senate Amendments – Family Law Legislation Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill 2011

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler—Leader of the House and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (11:46):  I move:

That the amendments be agreed to.

Today this chamber considers amendments to the Family Law Legislation Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill 2011 passed by the Senate last night. This government is unequivocally of the view that family violence and abuse of children are entirely unacceptable. The amendments respond to recommendations of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee. These amendments will simplify the bill, deliver certainty for litigants and ensure relevant information about the risk of family violence and abuse of children can be considered by the courts.

Amendments (2) and (4) simplify the provisions outlining the relevant weighting to be given in assessing the primary considerations used to determine a child’s best interests. They continue to support the principle that the protection of children from harm should be given the most weight in decision making. They do not alter the focus on the child having a meaningful relationship with both parents, particularly where there is no risk of harm to the child. Amendment (2) amends the provisions which govern how the family courts determine what is in the best interests of a child. Amendment (4) ensures that people who are resolving their parenting arrangements outside the family courts, who are the vast majority of parents, also receive clear and consistent advice about how they should determine their child’s best interests.

Amendment (3) provides for the courts to look, in appropriate cases, at both current and past family violence orders that apply to the children or members of their family. It also recognises that the relevant evidence to consider in assessing a child’s best interests relates to the circumstances which led to the making of a family violence order rather than the mere existence of the order itself. Amendments (1), (5) and (6) will in combination deliver certainty to the litigants in the family law system about what law will apply to their parenting proceedings.

There will be a clear start date for the amendments in schedule 1 of the bill. This will be six months after royal assent. This time frame reflects the need of the family courts to update their rules and to allow the government to implement an education campaign on the effect of the changes in this bill. The other amendments to item 45 of the bill have the effect of applying the changes prospectively to those matters instituted on or after the commencement date. Without this amendment, only a very limited degree of certainty could be provided to litigants. These are important reforms to protect children and families from family violence and child abuse. I commend the amendments to the House.