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Crossbenchers join calls for Family Law System Royal Commission

December 12, 2018

A cross-party alliance of federal parliamentarians has backed calls for Bravehearts’ call for a royal commission into the Australian family law system.

The alliance includes Liberal Ann Sudmalis, Labor’s Emma Husar, the Greens, One Nation, Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party, Centre Alliance and independents Andrew Wilkie and Tim Storer.

Bravehearts’ Hetty Johnston AM congratulated these leaders, offering them her wholehearted support. “It is wonderful to see our leaders putting politics aside to work together for child safety,” she said.

Bravehearts, alongside over 40 non-government organisations and experts nationally, wrote to every federal parliamentarian in recent weeks, inviting each to state whether they were committed to, against or undecided about a Family Law System Royal Commission by the close of sitting for the year.

Hetty said the coalition of experts wrote to every federal member directly, rather than simply approaching party leaders, as “thousands of Australian children suffering sexual assault and violence within our failing family law system should be a matter of critical concern for every single one of our leaders”.

“thousands of Australian children suffering sexual assault and violence within our failing family law system should be a matter of critical concern for every single one of our leaders”

“NGOs delivering on-the-ground sexual assault and family violence services, academic experts and mums’ and dads’ groups overwhelmingly support the Royal Commission, yet many of our leaders in Canberra seem content to return home for Christmas exposing hundreds, if not thousands, of Australian children to sexual assault and violence this holiday season,” said Hetty.

Dr Deborah Walsh, Lecturer and Domestic and Family Violence Specialist at the University of Queensland is one of the many experts supporting the Royal Commission. “For far too long women and children victims of domestic and family violence have suffered and, indeed, been tortured by the family law system,” she told Bravehearts.

Liz Mullinar, CEO of the Heal for Life Foundation, told Bravehearts her organisation passionately supports the Royal Commission, having seen many “appalling cases” in the family law system.

Jacqui Reed, Chief Executive Officer of CREATE Foundation, expressed “significant concerns that Australia’s family law system is currently not able to meaningfully listen to children and act on information to ensure their safety and wellbeing”, given the significant power imbalance between children and adults highlighted by the recent Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Professor Warwick Middleton, renowned trauma expert and Associate Professor in Psychiatry at the University of Queensland, also told Bravehearts he fully supports a Royal Commission into Australia’s family law system.

“Some of our leaders do not believe that a Royal Commission is warranted, many are still considering and are currently undecided. We will happily work with them to make Australia’s family law system safe for all children in the coming months,” said Hetty.

The response of many leaders to the experts’ call for a Royal Commission was that they would wait until the Senate inquiry into the Government’s proposed family court amalgamation and the Australian Law Reform Commission’s review of the family law system have reported in March and April next year.

However Hetty Johnston says that hundreds of children who are being raped in their own beds can’t wait that long. “Neither the ALRC nor the Senate Inquiry has the power or reach to direct change to the State and Territory components of the Family Law System, nor are they capable of comprehensively addressing the epidemic of child sexual assault and violence within the current family law system and exposing the true level of crisis to the Australian population. Only a Royal Commission has the necessary power to thoroughly investigate and instigate the changes necessary.”

“Many passionate advocates for child protection work in our courts, our police and child protection departments,” she said. “They are just as frustrated as we are at their lack of ability to help these kids. The failure of the States and Territories to fulfil their Constitutional obligations to child protection together with the lack of integration between federal and state agencies is seeing far too many children falling through the cracks”.

“Australia’s children just don’t have time to wait for our leaders to go on holiday. I think most federal politicians understand that the Family Law System Royal Commission is inevitable. Delaying action for several more months is downright reckless. It will only cause more harm to the most vulnerable Australians, our children”.

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