‘Change from within’ looks to be the new mantra of Australia’s highest profile child protection organisation Bravehearts, whose founder/chair Hetty Johnston has just announced she will stand as an independent for the Senate in Queensland at the next Federal election. After many years of lobbying politicians to listen on the subject of a Royal Commission into family law, Johnston says she’s fed up.
“I feel like I’ve done as much as I can outside of the political tent. The only thing I haven’t done is advocate for children from inside Parliament and now is the right time to do just that,” says Johnston.
Ms Johnston is far from a complete stranger to politics. She was Queensland leader of the then-Australian Democrats during the 1990s, and has attempted to enter state and federal politics since, but says this time is different as she now has significant financial backing.
Two years ago Alliance Legal Services asked Bravehearts why they are adamant that a Royal Commission into family law is so necessary, especially given the various governmental inquiries and reviews that have been undertaken or launched in the past few years.
Bravehearts explained to us that only a Royal Commission provides the legal framework to enable an exhaustive review, because it allows all participants (state and federal institutions including courts, police and child protection) to be investigated and involved in the potential solution. A Royal Commission can overcome the hurdles that exist to investigating the system, which include constitutional, legal (section 121 and other privacy instruments), international (UNCROC) and statutory (State-based) ones. A Royal Commission uniquely has the power to direct how the States and Territories function and to recommend nationally-consistent reforms.
There has been increasing cross-party support for the idea of a Royal Commission. However, the issue seems to have stalled after the Turnbull Government told Bravehearts there were “significant constitutional limitations” in the way of a Royal Commission, after which Bravehearts promptly obtained independent advice stating that there was actually no insurmountable constitutional barrier to setting up a Royal Commission. Johnston’s Senate bid will now clearly revive the issue and assist to address this impasse.
Transparency and accountability underpin any family law reform as the nation struggles to maintain faith in the system and evidences a great deal of mistrust and confusion (for instance, witness the fact that women’s groups say the family court system is failing mothers and children, while men’s groups insist the court system is skewed against fathers).
Johnston acknowledges she will campaign on many issues and if elected, deal with a broader spectrum of community concerns. However the heat will stay on with regard to a Royal Commission because she says only a Royal Commission can “investigate, report and remedy the tragedy being perpetrated on our children and hold persons to account for their failure in exercising their duty of care and/or professional and ethical diligence”.
Do you need assistance with a family law matter? Please contact Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our other experienced solicitors here at Alliance Legal Services on (02) 6223 2400.
Please note our blogs are not legal advice. For information on how to obtain the correct legal advice, please contact Alliance Legal Services.