Along with Fair Agenda and over 100 peak bodies and practitioners, we opposed the establishment of the inquiry. We made a joint statement calling for immediate action to make family law safer, separate from this unnecessary and harmful inquiry.
Now that the inquiry is going ahead against our advice, we are reluctantly engaging with it for two reasons: First, because we know the inquiry was set up to give a platform for those who seek to discredit victims/survivors and prioritise “parents’ rights” to have access to children over safety, and we need to counter these damaging narratives. Second, we are engaging with the inquiry in support of victims/survivors who may wish to participate.
Suggested Draft Text for Submissions
AWAVA has prepared suggested draft text and references to assist organisations writing submissions to the Joint Select Committee on Australia’s Family Law System. It is drawn from AWAVA’s (ongoing) drafting of our own submission but does NOT represent finalised text for citation or attribution to AWAVA. It is text that you might like to use in preparing your own submission, which will then be attributed to you or your organisation.
AWAVA has an extension for our submission to 31 January 2020. If you are planning to make a submission we encourage you to seek a submission too, by emailing the Committee secretariat at [email protected]
We encourage you to adapt the text to suit your own work and if possible to include de-identified case studies and details drawing on your practice or experience. We do NOT encourage you to reproduce this whole text verbatim as your submission. It is a resource, not a template. Submissions will be more persuasive and influential if they are different and draw from different sources of knowledge, testimonies etc.
Where possible, please tie recommendations you make to recommendations that appear in existing reports/reviews etc. This is to reinforce the message that this inquiry was not necessary and that Government already has information at hand to guide much-needed urgent reforms to the system.
Safeguards and protocols
Partly as a result of AWAVA’s and others’ advocacy, on 25 November the Senate agreed to a motion calling on the Government to: put in place “the essential safeguards being called for by women’s safety experts to protect witnesses during the conduct of the inquiry, including rules about giving evidence in confidence or remotely, ensuring safe access to hearing venues, and media protocols”, “not [hold] hearings until such safeguards and support for survivors of violence are implemented,” and ensure “adequate specialist and domestic family violence services are available to respond to additional demand resulting from the inquiry.”
The Committee has published protocols in relation to submissions and hearings. You can read them here.
AWAVA will make a submission to try to counter some of the misinformation that is being perpetuated through the inquiry process, and to reiterate our calls for action to make the system safer drawing on the recommendations of previous reviews and inquiries.
We know that some people and organisations in our network are also thinking of making a submission; we recommend using the suggested draft text for submissions.
It is important that the inquiry consider the perspectives of victims/survivors and the organisations working to support them. However, we understand that some people and organisations may not be in a position to engage with the inquiry.
Submissions close on 18 December (AWAVA has asked for this to be extended but at this stage the deadline stands). Information about making a submission is available here.
*** Update (29 Nov): AWAVA has been given an extension for our submission until 31 January 2020, and the Committee Secretariat has said they will consider other requests for extensions. You can email the Committee Secretariat to ask for an extension via [email protected] ***
Key steps AWAVA is taking:
– write to the Committee Secretariat to ask for essential safeguards be put in place for victims/survivors [done – see above on safeguards]
– writing our own submission drawing on input from our Advisory Group [in progress]
– compiling resources to inform people and organisations wishing to engage with the inquiry [see resources below; more in progress]
Resources for organisations
Here are some suggestions about preparing a submission:
1. You may wish to open your submission with reference to support for the joint statement opposing the inquiry;
2. You may then wish to turn your mind to the terms of reference of the inquiry (any or all of these that you feel you want to address). We will have a draft out soon from which you might like to refer or draw, but we would encourage you to explain your own reasons for your position. Remember that you are allowed to address “any related matters”, so if you have points to make that don’t seem to fit neatly into any of the other terms of reference that’s OK.
3. You may wish to tie any of your recommendations to those which have been previously made by the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) in its Review of the Family Law System, the Social Policy and Legal Affairs Parliamentary Inquiry into a Better Family Law System to support and protect those affected by Family Violence or others. This act of tying new recommendations to existing recommendations will further make the point that the inquiry itself was unnecessary in the first place, and efforts, time and resources should have instead been put into responding to the existing recommendation before the government to put safety first in family law.
AWAVA, NATSIWA and Harmony Alliance submission to the first stage of the ALRC review
Resources for individuals
We are asking the committee to make sure that victims/survivors have access to free counselling and other support, in recognition that engaging with this inquiry may be retraumatising and distressing, as well as potentially posing safety and legal risks. Some general services are listed below.
Individual people giving evidence or making submissions need to be aware that there are laws restricting people from making details about their family law cases public.
This includes Section 121 of the Family Law Act which “restricts the publication of any accounts of any proceedings, or parts of any proceedings, or lists of proceedings (subject to permissible exceptions) under the Act that identify the parties or others involved in the case. The restriction applies to publication, or other dissemination, to the public or a section of the public, and can apply to disclosures online as well as through the media. Breaches of section 121 are offences punishable by imprisonment of up to one year.” (Source: Federal Register of Legislation)
We are asking for the committee to make sure that free legal advice is available for people who wish to give evidence or make submissions to the inquiry, so that you can do so in compliance with Australian law. We will keep you updated about advice or other resources that are made available.
Help and support
If you, a child, or another person is in immediate danger, call 000.
Helplines & websites
These organisations offer 24/7 telephone support and counselling services, and online chat, for specific community
groups and for people in specific situations.
The national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. 24/7 phone and online services.
ph: 1800 737 732
Australian state and territory contact details for specialist sexual assault and domestic and family violence support services can be found at 1800 Respect services and support website.
Kids Helpline is a counselling service for Australian children and young people aged between 5 and 25 years. 24/7 phone and online services.
ph: 1800 55 1800
Professional support and information service for Australian men. 24/7 phone and online services.
ph: 1300 78 99 78
MRS provides anonymous and confidential telephone counselling, information and referrals to men to help them take action to stop using violent and controlling behaviour.
ph: 1300 766 491
Go to the Urgent Help section of the National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (NAPCAN) website for contact details of agencies which assist with reporting child abuse and neglect.
Help and support details here have been compiled using Our Watch‘s help and support page (any errors remain our own).