National and Commonwealth response
A national response to the Family Violence report was agreed to by the Standing Council on Law and Justice in April 2013. The national response dealt with the 24 recommendations that relate jointly to the Commonwealth, states and territories.
The Commonwealth response to the report was tabled in Parliament in June 2013 and deals with those aspects of the report that relate to the Commonwealth family law system.
Of the 56 recommendations in the report that relate to Commonwealth responsibilities, many have, since the report’s release, been acted on by the Australian Government to improve the capacity of the federal family law system to respond to family violence, including amendments to the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) discussed below.
In particular, consistent with ALRC recommendations, the Family Law Legislation Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Act 2011 (Cth) set out a new and significantly broader definition of ‘family violence’ for the Family Law Act; and amended the Act to provide that courts must consider ‘relevant inferences that may be drawn’ from family violence orders—not limited to final or contested orders. These changes to the Family Law Act came into effect on 7 June 2012.
Other initiatives related to the Family Violence report include:
- a multidisciplinary training package known as AVERT Addressing Violence: Education, Resources, Training; Family Law System Collaborative Responses to Family Violence (AVERT), developed by the Commonwealth Attorney General’s Department in collaboration with Relationships Australia South Australia;
- a standardised common screening and risk assessment framework and tool, and associated learning guide and software system to detect and respond to safety and well-being risks in families, across the family law system, known as the Detection of Overall Risk Screen (DOORS);
- reforms to the Family Law Act to assist people within the family law system to better capture, understand, disclose and act on family violence and child abuse;
- the planned finalisation by COAG, by the end of 2015, of a framework for a national domestic violence order scheme; and
- ongoing work on a National Family Violence Bench Book.
Other recommendations are being addressed through a National Justice CEOs project which is looking at collaboration between the family law and child protection systems. States and Territories have committed, through the first three year action plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children, to respond separately to the remaining 97 recommendations that relate specifically to them.
Family Law Legislation Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Act 2011
The Family Law Legislation Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Act 2011(Cth) (the amending Act) introduced amendments to the Family Law Act responding to the Family Violence report—in particular, Recommendations 6–4 and 17–1.
Recommendation 6–4 set out a new and significantly broader definition of ‘family violence’ for the Family Law Act. The amending Act has introduced a revised definition of ‘family violence’ substantially consistent with the recommended definition.
Recommendation 17–1 stated that s 60CC(3)(k) of the Family Law Act should be amended. This section previously provided that courts must, in determining parenting matters, consider relevant final or contested family violence orders. The Commissions recommended that the Family Law Act should instead require consideration of evidence provided, and findings made, in relevant family violence order proceedings. The Commissions did not limit such consideration to cases where final or contested orders are made.
The Act now provides that courts must consider ‘relevant inferences that may be drawn’ from family violence orders—not limited to final or contested orders. This reflects a formulation suggested by Professor Richard Chisholm and was supported by the ALRC as capturing the principle of the Commissions’ recommendation. These changes to the Family Law Act came into effect on 7 June 2012.