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Parents behaving badly

By Barbara Biggs - posted Monday, 8 March 2010

After the fallout of the three reviews of the Family Law Act 2006 shared parenting amendments, I can only thank God our constitution stipulates a separation of powers between government and the judiciary.

Chief Justice Diana Bryant has showed leadership in stepping up to the plate to protect children where the government has so far failed to do so after being threatened with losing votes in marginal electorates if they do.

Following tens of thousands of interviews the findings showed while shared parenting is working well in most cases, in 20 to 30 per cent of relationships involving entrenched conflict children can be put at risk because of existing laws.


For the Attorney-General, who ordered the Chisholm Review following the tragic death of four-year-old Darcey Freeman from the Westgate Bridge, it seems, votes count more than children’s safety.

In an act exactly mirroring the findings of one review - that parent’s rights are favoured over safety of children under the current law - father’s rights groups have threatened to mobilise their members against the Labor Party if the laws are changed to better protect children.

Fearing being put in such a position, and in a clever move, Attorney-General Robert McClelland released all three hefty reports at once rather than have the media scrutinise each one.

Then he said, despite the findings that allegations of abuse and violence were being discouraged under the present act, he said it was all a “misunderstanding” which could be fixed by the education of the judiciary.

It’s certainly true judges need educating, with one in a recent case indicating he thought emotional abuse of a child was nonsense and she would not remember it when she grew up anyway.

The National Council for Children Post-Separation (NCCPS) heard a good example of emotional abuse just this week. It involved a four-year-old whose teachers, on the third day after starting school, recommended she have counselling because of self-harming behaviours. The child is unable to be taken for therapy because the other parent has refused to agree to it.


However, children dying and being seriously physically abused is more than a misunderstanding and can’t be simply brushed aside as namby pamby nonsense.

Chief Justice Bryant was appointed by the Liberal Party which brought in the new, hastily prepared shared parenting amendments before an election. Her journey in this matter has been interesting and, ultimately, commendable.

Early last year the Chief Justice categorically stood by the new amendments, even after the shock of Darcey Freeman’s death. But as public pressure and sentiment mounted, culminating in a national protest by the NCCPS on May 3, she wrote to the Attorney-General saying urgent changes were needed.

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About the Author

Barbara Biggs is a former journalist and author of a two-part autobiography, In Moral Danger and The Road Home, launched in May 2004 by Peter Hollingworth and Chat Room in 2006. Her latest book is Sex and Money: How to Get More. Barbara is convenor of the National Council for Children Post-Separation,

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