Labor will stand up for domestic violence victims

Federal Member for Bendigo, Lisa Chesters MP said today that Labor’s announcement will help stop Bendigo and Central Victorian women who are victims of family and domestic violence from being cross-examined in court by their abusers.

At the annual Parliament White Ribbon Day breakfast this morning, Labor Leader Bill Shorten made the commitment that Labor will pursue reforms to the Family Court.

“Subjecting victims to hostile questioning by the perpetrators of domestic violence in court inflicts new and fresh trauma, and often makes victims reluctant to take their cases to court.

“I have heard from our local women and men, the legal community and support and advocacy groups that this practice is occurring in Bendigo and Central Victorian court rooms. This is unacceptable,” said Ms Chesters.

As part of the policy pledge, Labor is committed to:

• Amending the Family Law Act 1975: ­ To compel a judge to consider, when domestic violence is alleged, whether any vulnerable witness should be protected during court proceedings under a range of mechanisms already available under the Family Law Act 1975 using existing resources and facilities; and ­ If the judge believes that the available mechanisms under the Family Law Act 1975 are insufficient to protect a vulnerable witness, the judge is empowered to direct that all unrepresented litigants in the matter be represented by Legal Aid.

• Committing $43.2 million over four years to Legal Aid, to ensure both parties in a domestic violence case can be adequately represented without the need for personal cross-examination.

“This reform has been called for by survivors of abuse, families and activists for years. It is not acceptable that the Liberal National Government has so far failed to act.

“The Liberal National Government has already thrown Legal Aid and Community Legal Centres (CLCs) into crisis with its cruel funding cuts. The 30 per cent funding cliff faced by CLCs in July next year - including to our local Loddon Campaspe Community Legal Centre - will make a bad situation even worse.

“Earlier this year, Labor pledged that in Government we will invest extra funding for frontline legal services, including for CLCs, who are working to help survivors of family violence. This would mean an extra $450,000 over three years for the Loddon Campaspe Community Legal Centre.

“Today’s announcement goes a step further to help ensure that victims of family and domestic violence are not faced with the traumatic experience of being cross-examined in court by their abusers.

“I call on the Liberal National Government to match Labor’s announcement. It’s the right thing to do.

“The prevalence of family violence in Australia is not just a national disgrace, it is a national crisis. Ensuring our justice system is well funded and well-resourced is vital,” said Ms Chesters.