Family violence a ‘national disgrace’

At the forum (L to R): Angela Lynch (Secretariat, Queensland Sexual Assault Network), Chief Justice Will Alstergren, Commissioner Michaela Cronin (Domestic, Family and Sexual Violence Commission), Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, Commissioner Tarang Chawla (Victorian Multicultural Commission), Hayley Foster (Director – Family Violence, Access, Equity and Inclusion – Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia). Photos: Supplied

Family violence is a “national disgrace”, the Chief Justice of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCOA), the Honorable William Alstergren told a forum in Melbourne on Friday.

Chief Justice Alstergren hosted the inaugural National Family Violence Symposium involving about 80 key stakeholders from every State and Territory representing the family violence and other sectors such as legal and victim support services.

“The prevalence of family violence throughout our communities is a national disgrace. We’re not even halfway thought the year, and yet 28 women have reportedly been killed in 2024 so far,” Chief Justice Alstergren said.

“Family violence is simply unacceptable and it must stop.       

“In recent years the FCFCOA has been actively focused on improving the identification of risk and making enormous change to how it responds to cases that involve allegations of family violence.”

His Honour said court data showed the families who come before the courts were, more often than not, faced with a range of complex issues.


About 91 per cent of parenting cases have one or more major risk factors alleged (such as allegations of family violence, child abuse, serious mental health and substance misuse issues), and 69 per cent of our parenting cases have four or more major risk factors alleged.

He said through sophisticated risk assessments and sharing of information with police and child protection, the courts had better and more timely access to critical information. This information assists with better informed decisions around the safety and best interests of children.

“Although a significant amount of work has been done, especially by advocates, victim survivors, government and those working in the domestic and family violence sector, more can be done,” His Honour said.

“This forum provides a platform for experts to come together in the one room to exchange insights, share information and explore opportunities to work together.

“It will help to build upon the important work already done, allow for continued engagement and provide a pathway towards action, with the shared objective of combatting and eradicating the unacceptable levels of family violence currently facing our nation.”

Federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus KC also had strong words to say when he addressed the forum.


“Every Australian deserves to live in safety and security,” he said. “This event takes place against the backdrop of shocking acts of violence against women in recent months, weeks and days.

“Police investigations and judicial processes must be allowed to run their course without interference. But we must acknowledge the devastating consequences of this violence and the deep distress being felt in our community right now.

“One death of a woman at the hands of a man is one too many. One death a week is an epidemic. It must end.”

He shared his own experience as a legal practitioner with those attending who included representatives from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services, women’s legal services, academics and peak research organisations on family, sexual and domestic violence.

“Before I was elected to the Parliament in 2007, I was at the Victorian Bar for many years. I know first hand that the way we talk about family violence has shifted enormously in recent years,” he said.

“While we have a much better understanding of family violence and violence against women than we once did, we still have much to do.


“Fundamental to that shift is acknowledging that overwhelmingly, violence against women in Australia is perpetrated by men. We have a crisis of male violence in Australia.

“It is a scourge in our society and it must end. To create lasting change, women cannot be expected to solve violence against women alone.

“It’s time for men to step up. It’s our responsibility to educate ourselves, our sons, our colleagues and our friends.

“We must focus on prevention, working together and finding new ways of doing things.

“We owe it to all survivors and their loved ones to do better.”

The Attorney-General also addressed coercive control, international child abduction measures, forced marriage and property settlements.


Hayley Foster, FCFCOA Director – Family Violence, Access, Equity and Inclusion, said this event was the first time family law courts had convened such a meeting on this scale.

She said it was a unique opportunity for leaders at the forefront of preventing and responding to family violence to come together, share our expertise, and map an ambitious path forward.

“We, each of us, know that if we’re going to end gender-based violence in one generation, we need to take bold, innovative steps and target our collective expertise and resources towards evidence-based interventions that yield tangible results.”

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