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8M AUSTRALIA: Australian Federal Government ends specialised Family Court

Updated: Mar 12



by David Elliott



The federal government has voted to merge the Family Court with the Federal Circuit Court, meaning that on a federal level there will no specialised court to deal with issues involving domestic violence and child abuse.


The bill was not listed on the parliament's agenda for the week, and was rushed into the Senate on the 16th February and passed two days later. The Liberal-National Coalition was able to pass the bill with the support of One Nation and independent senator Rex Patrick.


The change was made on the basis of an inquiry that has been rejected by judges, legal experts and community organisations. The inquiry was launched to appease One Nation senator Pauline Hanson, who claims that women regularly lie about abuse to secure custody of children in family courts. She uses this to shore up her base of support, which includes right-wing men’s rights activists. (https://thesocialist.org.au/sham-family-law-inquiry-launched/)


The government claims that this is about efficiency, but the same government has overseen changes that overburdened the Family Court system and has refused to adequately fund it. Before the pandemic, cases in the Family Court were seeing delays of more than a year. Now that it will be merged with the overburdened Federal Circuit Court, delays are expected to become even greater.


The Family Court hears cases relating to divorce, custody of children, child abuse and domestic abuse. These are cases where victims often need specialised support and protection. They involve issues that require special experience and training to handle.


A specialised Family Court was one of the reforms brought in by the Whitlam government in 1975. The Whitlam government was brought to power on the back of mass movements against the Vietnam War, against racism, and on a rising tide of feminism.


But the system has never adequately dealt with issues of domestic violence and abuse, even after improvements have been won. Survivors of abuse routinely face obstacles when they go to the authorities. Police have been known to direct victims to stay in contact with abusers, and to ignore cases entirely.


In January, a coronial investigation found that a Gold Coast constable ignored complaints of violence, along with hundreds of threatening text messages, towards Queensland woman Tara Brown from a violent former partner. Within days, she had been murdered by her abuser. As an excuse, an officer told an internal investigation that he believed it was 'commonplace for women to make false allegations to further their position in Family Court matters'.


Even when laws exist to supposedly protect victims, they are administered by people embedded in a sexist capitalist society. The failure of the legal system to handle these cases is one of the reasons that these sorts of crimes often go unreported.


To really create a society where we can be free of family violence and abuse, we need to challenge the capitalist system itself. Capitalism routinely dehumanises women in particular, in order to more effectively exploit all of us. (https://internationalsocialist.net/en/2021/01/socialist-feminism)


In the same week that the government rushed the attack on the Family Court onto the agenda, the story emerged of young Liberal Party staffer Brittany Higgins who was assaulted at Parliament House. Higgins said she felt pressure to leave her job. Four other women have since come forward about being sexually harassed or assaulted by the same man. While she has faced a sexist backlash, there has also been a widespread level of sympathy towards Brittany Higgins, as ordinary people recognised the hurt she was facing.


On March 8th, people around the world will come onto the streets for International Women's Day. There is a real mood in society to discuss these issues.


The attack on the Family Court is a setback for all working people. The way to fight this attack is through a socialist feminist movement. Working people produce all the wealth of society, and through organisation we can bring the system to a halt and win reforms. But as we are seeing, reforms can always be taken back out of our hands by the ruling class. We need to build a movement for a democratic, socialist society that does away with this sexist system.


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