As part of the Justice for Kids campaign, which urges all Australian leaders to implement a five point plan to fix Australia's family law system, Rosie delivered a speech to the National Press Club delivered on June 15 2016.
You can read her speech below.
** CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY **
National Press Club
Wednesday 15th June 2016
I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional people of the land on which we meet today, the nur-a-whall people, and pay my respects to elders past and present.
It’s great to be back at the National Press Club and I thank you all for coming today
We’ve been on a journey together for over 2 years now.
The national media joined me the very day after Luke was murdered.
When I said that family violence can happen to anyone, no matter how nice your house is or how intelligent you are, I was speaking from a breaking heart.
I had no idea that message would reverberate around the nation.
You have supported me on this incredible journey– forcing family violence into the public consciousness when it had been all but ignored in the past. Bringing it from behind closed doors and finally out into the daylight.
It was you, the nation’s media, through a generous donation from last year’s Press Gallery mid-Winter Ball, that provided seed funding for the Luke Batty Foundation’s Never Alone campaign.
Since I last stood at this podium, in my home state of Victoria we’ve had a Coronial Inquest into Luke’s death and a Royal Commission into family violence. Both of which delivered recommendations to keep women and children safe.
In a display of incredible leadership, Premier Daniel Andrews and the Victorian Government welcomed and adopted the recommendations of both, and committed half a billon dollars to their implementation.
We can’t underestimate the positive impact this will have on the lives of so many woman and children in Victoria.
Other governments around Australia are also making strong commitments.
I could not be more proud of the progress we have achieved as a nation.
But if we are to genuinely protect our women and children from family violence the next stage of our journey together must include action that changes the systems that administer justice and protect children.
I’d like to share a story with you.
It’s a story about a woman I know who experienced terrible violence from her partner – physical, sexual and emotional – over many, many years.
On numerous occasions her son witnessed this abuse.
Despite this man going to jail , the family law system granted him access to their son upon his release.
The child is terrified of his father.
He has started wetting the bed and suffers regular anxiety attacks.
But the court has decided that the father’s crimes are subordinate to this father’s right to see his son.
The family law system has failed this child. But we too will fail this child if we don't stand up and demand change.
This story is not unique. Since I lost Luke, the number one issue women come to me with is their desperation and despair over the family law system.
This is a system that too often fails to recognise the impact of family violence; a system that allows perpetrators to cross examine their victims; a system that is overburdened and underfunded and a system that leaves so many feeling powerless to protect their children.
Despite changes to the Family Law Act in 2012 children’s safety is still not being prioritised.
The problem is not in the Family Law Act – it is in the very culture of the family law system that has the responsibility to apply it.
To prioritise the safety of children, the family law system needs to believe that family violence has occurred. All too often, survivors even with proof have their fears written off as anxiety or obsession. Minimised or dismissed. Accused of exaggerating or manipulating the system.
Children who say they are afraid, or bravely disclose their own abuse, are routinely seen as having had their minds influenced and poisoned by their mother’s animosity towards the father and are not believed.
The court can then order these very same children to continue to spend time with, or even live with, the alleged abuser – a truly diabolical and unacceptable situation.
That’s exactly what happened to a boy known as Alex.
Alex is now 14 years old.
When he was seven, he was removed from his mother’s care after she raised Alex’s allegations of sexual abuse against the father, who had also been violent towards her.
The court decided Alex’s allegations were simply a product of the mother’s anxiety, despite two former wives accusing the father of sexually abusing their young children.
The Family Court ordered that Alex would live with his father, and have very limited access to his mother.
Alex says that one decision ruined his whole childhood.
For as long as he can remember, he says his father physically and emotionally abused him almost daily.
Two years ago, Alex breached the Family Court order and ran away to his mother, threatening to kill himself if he was forced to go back to his father.
The court decided his suicidal feelings were merely stress-related.
Alex was ordered back to his father, and was prohibited from contacting his mother for a month.
Police reports show that soon after, Alex fled to the police several times, pleading for their protection.
Each time, because of the Family Court orders, police had no choice but to call Alex’s father to come and pick him up.
Eventually, Alex came to a police station with sufficient evidence for the police to take an AVO out against the father. Alex is now living back with his mother.
Can you imagine this happening to your child?
This is happening because a significant number of people working within the family law system simply do not understand or even want to understand the complex nature of domestic violence.
In too many cases, it is simply viewed as historical - a dynamic that existed between the parents, rather than a pattern of coercive control that can continue long after the relationship has ended.
Nobody is suggesting that it's easy to distil the truth in family law cases. And no-one’s suggesting that men don’t suffer in agonizing family breakdowns too.
But in the vast majority of domestic violence cases it is women and children who live in fear.
Police say it is rare to arrive at a scene to find a man quaking with fear, or to see a man rushed to hospital with life-threatening injuries.
That is what we’re talking about here today. Not just bad behaviour - genuine and real threats to safety. Whether that threat is coming from a man or a woman doesn’t matter – the family law system needs to get much better at detecting all kinds of abuse.
But there are solutions that will keep victims and children safe.
I have worked closely with the Women’s Legal Services Australia on the development of a practical five-step plan to fix the family law response to family violence.
I would like to acknowledge the tireless work of lawyers, campaigners and advocates from Women’s Legal Services – many of whom are here today.
But it’s not all about funding. It’s about the systemic and cultural change that is needed to put the safety of kids first - throughout the entire journey of the family law process, from the very beginning right through to the end.
Development of a specialist pathway for cases involving family violence.
There must be an assessment of whether family violence has occurred and only after this should courts make orders determining how appropriate it is for children to spend time with either parent.
Early decision making, triage and case management will prevent cases of family violence from falling through the cracks.
The second step is about reducing trauma and supporting those most at risk.
There needs to be a process that identifies those affected by complex issues like family violence, mental health issues and substance abuse and puts appropriate safeguards in place.
To reduce trauma we also need to introduce legislative protections that stop a victim from being directly cross-examined by their abuser.
No parent should be directly cross-examined by their abuser – the person they most fear. It’s Not only is it traumatic for the survivor, and it does not produce reliable evidence for the courts.
Intervene early and provide legal help for the most disadvantaged. This includes Indigenous and CALD parents and children.
Legal help available in the family law system is extremely limited. Where legal aid is not available, the cost of legal fees can be prohibitive. Many parents I speak to leave the family law system tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.
One third of all parents simply cannot afford a lawyer, and have to represent themselves.
To address these serious gaps, we need to increase the free legal help available for family violence victims and support community and Aboriginal legal centres.
Support women and their children to financially recover from family violence.
Victims of family violence are likely to experience financial hardship as a result of a violent relationship.
In fact family violence is the single most common factor contributing to homelessness among women and their children.
The final step is to strengthen the understanding of all family law professionals on family violence.
Currently we have a system with some pockets of good professional practice, but it is hugely inconsistent.
Family violence is the core business of the family law courts and yet there are no requirements for lawyers or judges to be trained or develop a deep understanding of the complexities and dangers involved for families experiencing family violence.
Even experts who are engaged by the court to assess accusations of abuse involving children are not required to have a minimum level of training or any expertise in family violence and child abuse.
In a system that depends so heavily on the discretion of individual decision makers, comprehensive training is crucial.
This debate should be above politics.
It’s about putting the safety, wellbeing and essential needs of children above all else.
It’s about keeping our kids safe from violence and terror.
What could be more important?
We have to get this right.
Today I am releasing polling from Essential Research that shows very high public support of 70% or above for key measures contained within the Women’s legal Services 5 step plan to put safety first in family law.
Next week I have invited the leaders of each political party to accept a petition from extremely concerned Australians demanding the family law system is overhauled and Justice for Kids prioritised.
Almost 20,000 Australians have signed the petition already.
I am confident that in this election campaign all parties can come to the table and acknowledge what needs to be done – this is about keeping our children safe and giving them the opportunity to experience a life free from the constant threat of violence.
There have been many, many reviews – we know what is needed - now is the time to act.
You too can sign the petition at www.neveralone.com.au/justiceforkids.
Thank you so much for having me here today and I look forward to continuing this journey with your passionate support.
Change cannot happen without you!