Family assistance

Current definitions

3.52 The current framework for family assistance is contained in two statutes: A New Tax System (Family Assistance) Act 1999 (Cth) and A New Tax System (Family Assistance) (Administration) Act 1999 (Cth)—referred to as the Family Assistance Act and the Family Assistance (Administration) Act respectively Neither of these Acts, nor the Family Assistance Guide provides a definition of ‘family violence’.[43]

3.53 As noted in the context of the discussion on child support, it may be desirable for definitions of family violence to be included in primary legislation. In Family Violence—A National Legal Response, the Commissions recommended a consistent definition of family violence in state and territory family violence and criminal legislation, and the Family Law Act. As discussed above, including this definition in relevant Commonwealth laws, such as family assistance legislation, may increase clarity and certainty for victims of family violence, by ensuring that the violence they have experienced will be recognised and treated similarly across all Commonwealth laws.

Using the common definition

3.54 In Family Violence and Commonwealth Laws—Child Support and Family Assistance, ALRC Issues Paper 38, the ALRC asked whether family assistance legislation should be amended to insert a definition of family violence consistent with that recommended by the Australian Law Reform Commission and NSW Law Reform Commission in Family Violence—A National Legal Response.[44]

Submissions and consultations

3.55 The response of stakeholders was very similar to that in response to the question in relation to child support, summarised above. The response of the Non-Custodial Parents Party, for example, was identical, and strongly against the proposal.[45] All other stakeholders who responded to this question, however, were strongly in support.[46]

3.56 For example, the Welfare Rights Centre (NSW) commented that:

It is crucial that family violence be given the broadest possible definition and that that definition is used consistently across all government departments and agencies. This is particularly the case given the higher levels of vulnerability (economic and otherwise) of parents receiving family assistance and social security payments.[47]

3.57 The ADFVC advocated that:

insertion of the definition into the legislation will give the issue prominence and clarify the scope of the issue for those interpreting the legislation. It will also offer consistency in definitions across legislation and policies.[48]

ALRC’s views

3.58 The ALRC confirms its views expressed in Family Violence—A National Legal Response that systemic benefits would flow from the adoption of a common interpretative framework, across different legislative schemes, promoting seamlessness and effectiveness in proceedings involving family violence for both victims and decision makers.

3.59 Consistency of definitions across the areas under consideration in this Inquiry promotes the seamlessness identified as a key framing principle. Such consistency can then underpin training and awareness in service delivery areas; and facilitate better coordination of responses to family violence, through appropriate information sharing and the improvement of pathways between agencies.

3.60 The ALRC notes again the comments of the Law Council, expressed in relation both to child support and family assistance, with respect to placing the definition in the Family Law Act but, as noted above, considers that the primary legislation in each area should be amended.

Proposal 3–3 A New Tax System (Family Assistance) Act 1999 (Cth) should be amended to provide for a consistent definition of family violence as proposed in Proposal 3–1.

Proposal 3–4 A New Tax System (Family Assistance) (Administration) Act 1999 (Cth) should be amended to provide for a consistent definition of family violence as proposed in Proposal 3–1.

[43] The Guide to Social Security Law, which is also hosted on the FAHCSIA website, does contain a definition of family violence. Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Guide to Social Security Law <> at 22 July 2011, [1.1.D.235].

[44] Australian Law Reform Commission, Family Violence and Commonwealth Laws—Child Support and Family Assistance ALRC Issues Paper 38 (2011), Question 30.

[45] Non-Custodial Parents Party (Equal Parenting), Submission CFV 50, 25 April 2011.

[46] National Legal Aid, Submission CFV 81, 24 June 2011; Welfare Rights Centre NSW, Submission CFV 70, 9 May 2011; Law Council of Australia Family Law Section, Submission CFV 67, 5 May 2011; Joint submission from Domestic Violence Victoria and others, Submission CFV 59, 27 April 2011; Commonwealth Ombudsman, Submission CFV 54, 21 April 2011; ADFVC, Submission CFV 53, 27 April 2011; Sole Parents’ Union, Submission CFV 52, 27 April 2011; Confidential, Confidential CFV 49, 21 April 2011; National Council of Single Mothers and their Children, Submission CFV 45, 21 April 2011; Welfare Rights Centre Inc Queensland, Submission CFV 43, 21 April 2011; Australian Association of Social Workers (Qld), Submission CFV 38, 12 April 2011; Bundaberg Family Relationship Centre, Submission CFV 04, 16 March 2011.

[47] Welfare Rights Centre NSW, Submission CFV 70, 9 May 2011.

[48] ADFVC, Submission CFV 53, 27 April 2011.