Today, the Commonwealth of Australian Governments (COAG) had a summit focused on domestic violence. It’s the latest buzz word in politics and it’s a good one – an excellent one in fact. The talk was about uniformity in laws, both between the states and territories and federally where the jurisdiction for the Family Court lies.
It is well known that the Family Court has it’s issues. It has been mired in procedure and legal mumbo jumbo, leading to decisions that are not necessarily in the best interests of the children. That’s a problem that even the Ipswich witch Pauline Hanson has noticed and wants something done about. I see that as riding coat tails but that’s beside the point here. The Family Court to an extent relies on the state’s various forms of child services. Those departments have many issues with making bad decisions, particularly in New South Wales – and children have suffered as a result. So have spouses; mostly female of course but it is not unknown for a male to be a victim of domestic violence as well.
I am of the view that not enough is being done is several areas. For a start, state departmental errors need to be eliminated. Children should be first in line for protection, and I’m not saying that to disrespect women. If it becomes a choice, the kids should be considered first. That’s harsh I know, but what can you do? In a way it’s a case of heads you lose tails you lose. The perfect scenario would of course be to get both the kids and the adult victim out of harm’s way. The easiest way to do this is to give them somewhere to go. Victoria put in a lot of money into government housing in the last budget for this exact purpose.
Next up is to ensure that the person committing the violence is brought to justice. That’s the tough one because invariably it becomes a case of “he says – she says” before the courts. I don’t think that situation should end up before the courts because it is too harsh an environment, especially when the perpetrator represents him or herself and then has the right to pressure the victim. That can’t be allowed. And yet the rules of the court system allows it. It has to because not everyone can afford lawyers, and Legal Aid funding is limited. I can talk through experience on that one, running many court and tribunal actions self represented. Increasing funding for legal representation I don’t think will solve the problem though.
I think the Family Court should be changed, the rules should be reviewed and it should become something of a more personalised tribunal set up similar to Victoria’s Civil and Administrative Tribunal. That way rules prohibiting certain forms of cross examination can be banned, and the onus can be placed on the presiding party (in court – the judge) to investigate the matter fully. That will also allow children to be asked about the situation if they are old enough and can make a contribution, something that would be frowned upon in a full court. Children are far more likely to be honest, because at the bottom of their desires would be for everything that’s going on between Mum and Dad to just stop. Sometimes they take sides, but then there would be a good reason for that and the reason would be easy to find. Legal precedents, which can bog down a full court hearing, can be cast aside in order to get to the bottom of the issue at hand and get the full picture. The legal mumbo jumbo should be left for another time if it should be considered at all. Every family is different.
The penalties for proven perpetrators should be harsher, and I don’t just mean jail terms. Compulsory anger management should be in consideration, a guilty party should have NO access to the kids (at all, no excuses) and there needs to be substantive distance put between the perpetrator and the victim. Sending the guilty party to another state would be ideal as an example, as it would also enable a restriction to stay within that state and have to apply to leave it.
I think everyone agrees that people who engage in domestic violence are the scum of the earth. There is no excuse for it. It needs to be stopped. It needs to be punished. And the victims needs to be protected. If this is done right, the perpetrators should be worried – as they should be.