Women’s Legal Services Australia (WLSA) has welcomed the Federal Government’s family law reform package, which was passed by Parliament today.
Federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus KC said Parliament had today passed two significant pieces of legislation to make Australia’s family law system simpler, safer and more accessible for separating families and their children.
They are the Family Law Amendment Bill 2023 and the Family Law Amendment (Information Sharing) Bill 2023.
The Family Law Amendment Bill 2023 focuses on parenting decisions in the best interests of children.
The reforms include:
- requiring Independent Children’s Lawyers to meet directly with children;
- greater powers to protect parties and children from harmful effects of protracted and adversarial litigation;
- a definition of ‘member of the family’ in the Family Law Act that is inclusive of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander concepts of family and kinship;
- simplified compliance and enforcement provisions for child-related orders;
- powers to enable government to regulate family report writers;
- ensuring that children’s voices are heard more easily in matters under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.
Mr Dreyfus said the Family Law Amendment (Information Sharing) Bill 2023 would “ensure courts had access to the full picture of family safety risk in order to prioritise the safety of children and families, particularly in circumstances where there is risk of child abuse, neglect or family violence”.
- establishes two new information sharing orders to allow courts to directly and quickly seek information from police, child protection and firearms agencies about family violence, child abuse and neglect that could place children at risk;
- allows a court to make these orders at any point during proceedings so information is accurate and up-to-date; and
- will ensure sensitive information is only disclosed in a safe and appropriate manner.
“Significantly, the amendments passed today repeal the presumption of ‘equal shared parental responsibility’ provisions in the Family Law Act 1975,” he said.
“In 2017, a bipartisan parliamentary committee found that these provisions were confusing, that they failed to prioritise the safety of children and that they were being improperly applied in a way that put children at risk. These findings are consistent with the overwhelming consensus of family law experts.”
WLSA Chair Elena Rosenman commended the Attorney-General on prioritising these reforms and consulting widely with the community.
“Women’s legal services across Australia are on the frontline of our family law system, representing women through incredibly difficult experiences. We work to keep women and their children safe and these changes will support them in that important work,” she said.
“We strongly support reform of the Family Law Act to make the law clearer and fairer, including the removal of the presumption of equal shared parental responsibility to improve safety.
“When violence and abuse are factors, courts will be able to deal with them more easily and reduce the number of children and mothers forced into dangerous situations.
“Women’s legal services across Australia have advocated for this reform for many years based on the toxic and harmful effect it has had on families going through separation.”
Mr Dreyfus said: “These reforms are long overdue and will improve the lives of Australian families”.
“This Bill is informed by the Australian Law Reform Commission’s 2019 report Family Law for the Future – An inquiry into the Family Law System and reflects the Government Response to the Joint Select Committee on Australia’s Family Law System.
“These long-overdue reforms are significant but we know there is more work to be done. An exposure draft of a second Family Law Bill has already been released for consultation to further improve the family law system.”