A family law bill inspired by the murder of Brisbane woman Hannah Clarke and her three children will protect children, not chip away at the rights of fathers, domestic violence advocates say.
- The bill wants the presumption of equal shared parenting removed from the law
- It will need the support of the Coalition to even be voted on
- Numerous inquiries have called for the presumption to be scrapped
Federal Labor MP Graham Perrett has introduced a private member’s bill to Parliament, aimed at removing what he describes as confusing laws around custody arrangements.
At the moment the family law assumes parenting should be shared equally when parents separate, but Mr Perrett argues that unfairly puts both parents on the same footing when a dispute begins, regardless of their conduct.
The Brisbane MP told the House of Representatives he was inspired to put forward the bill after the shocking murder of Brisbane woman Hannah Clarke and her three children at the hands of her former partner.
“Their horrific murders created an outpouring of grief, and promises by leaders to act, to make a difference,” Mr Perrett said.
“There were fine words spoken in the aftermath of Hannah Clarke’s murder, but they echo hollower and hollower every day that they’re not followed up with simple, no-cost action.”
Mr Perrett said the current legislation was difficult to understand.
“There is a widely held misconception that equal shared parental responsibility means equal shared care — that is that parents will spend equal time with their children,” he told Parliament.
“This misconception sets up a false expectation that parents have some right to guarantee equal time with their children.
“This can incentivise an abusive partner to litigate their parenting dispute. It may lead to a parent agreeing to an unsafe parenting arrangement, in the belief that they have no choice.”
The Small Steps 4 Hannah Foundation was established after Ms Clarke’s murder, raising awareness of domestic violence and parenting concerns.
The organisation’s chair, Laura Bos, backed Mr Perrett’s proposal and argued the changes were “gender neutral” and aimed at protecting the wellbeing of children.
“This is not necessarily always a male who is abusive in the relationship, it can also be a female,” Ms Bos said.
“When a couple splits up, and they’ve got children, you start at 50/50 in terms of care — that’s where the presumption lies.
Numerous inquiries presented to Parliament have called for a scrapping of the presumption, which was introduced in 2006.
Ms Bos said she believed parenting orders were one of the most sensitive aspects of family breakdowns, and said there was evidence of how the arrangements were also used to exacerbate family disputes.
“What we start to really see is a pattern of the system, and particularly around child support and child custody, being almost used as a tool of control and of choice to inflict financial pain, inflict emotional pain, and also become a part of a continuing sequence of coercive control,” she said.
Being a private member’s bill, the legislation would need the support of the Coalition to even be voted on, let alone pass Parliament.
“I know the Coalition needs the votes of One Nation in the other place [the Senate], and this bill will annoy that political party,” Mr Perrett said as he introduced the bill.
“Nevertheless, today I will commence the journey towards legislative change.
“The coronavirus has taught us many things, not just how to wash our hands properly, but also that when there’s genuine will Australians can work together to achieve great things.”
The Federal Government launched an inquiry into the family law system last September, after lobbying from One Nation leader Pauline Hanson.
Senator Hanson has long campaigned for a greater emphasis on men’s rights in family disputes.
A Senate inquiry established after Ms Clarke’s murder recently reported back to Parliament despite taking no submissions and holding no hearings.
Senior ministers, including Social Services Minister Anne Ruston and Minister for Women Marise Payne, expressed surprise at the inquiry’s conduct, and announced another probe just days later.