There’s been some unexpected political action on the family law reform front, with the Prime Minister just announcing that another inquiry into the family law system is to be held. The inquiry will take a year and is to be led by Liberal MP Kevin Andrews.
This has been reported as coming as a response to agitation by Pauline Hanson and the One Nation party, whose private bill on family law was debated in the federal upper house a few days earlier.
Somewhat claiming ownership of the new inquiry, Senator Hanson said she was “pleased to announce” the inquiry was happening, and continued to insert herself into the centre of the debate by demanding the Government makes her a co-chair of the parliamentary committee overseeing the new inquiry.
The move has provoked anger amongst stakeholders, as Australians already saw a family law inquiry held less than three years ago, with no significant reform happening as a result.
The nation is also still waiting for the Government to act on the 60 recommendations proposed by the Australian Law Reform Commission after their recent comprehensive review of the family law system. Meanwhile Attorney-General Christian Porter is determined to press on with his plans to merge the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court into a family law supercourt.
Stakeholders such as anti-family violence campaigners are furious that another inquiry has been planned which does not involve experts in family violence.
The Government insists the review will not take sides on gender in the process of looking at the onus of proof for obtaining an apprehended violence order, the costs involved in going to court, and the issue of false allegations and evidence. However, Hanson’s involvement does muddy the waters, given her vocal and longstanding views that women make “frivolous allegations” in family court.
Do we need another inquiry?
Campaigners like Bravehearts have long argued that a Royal Commission would be a much more productive idea. Yet here we are with another inquiry, apparently without having learnt much from the last one.
The previous inquiry already exposed the urgent need for better processes in triaging family violence, the need to ensure perpetrators of family violence are not given unsupervised access to kids, the need to fix the problems of the interaction between courts and jurisdictional barriers, systems abuse, the costs and time involved with litigation, access to justice, and the issues around family report writers.
The new inquiry does have support from the Law Council of Australia, which is of course hopeful that the Government will eventually act to fix “systemic failures” due to chronic underfunding.
What did One Nation propose in their bill?
One Nation wanted family law reform to involve couples sorting out property and parenting matters through self-assessment outside the courts. Assets brought into a romantic relationship would be given to the original owner if the couple broke up, which Hanson said would “prevent those gold-diggers”. Each partner would get 35% of the family home automatically unless one partner proved there were special circumstances.
Couples would have to self-assess their remaining wealth on an internet portal, with the financially disadvantaged partner assured of getting half the value of their relationship property within 60 days. (The West)
Regarding parenting, parents with primary custody (typically the mother) would be “forced to articulate reasons for not giving standard contact hours to the father”.
What’s the criticism around One Nation’s bill?
One Nation bill has been criticised for “proposing differential treatment based on gender stereotypes,” according to Labor senator Pat Dodson, who called the reforms confusing, unworkable and not in children’s best interests.
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You can read the PM’s media release here.