By Lloyd Skinner

Outspoken, controversial, and offensive, One Nation party leader, Senator Pauline Hanson is a strident critic of Australia’s family law system. What does Senator Hanson believe about the family law system? And do any of her criticisms have viability?

Hanson was previously involved in an abusive relationship with an alcoholic partner, which culminated in divorce in 1987. She experienced the impact of the Family Court litigation personally. As such, the issue of reforming the family law system has individual importance to Hanson.

Compared to the pragmatism of the Coalition, and the Labor Party, which has a greater focus on preventing domestic violence, One Nation is ideological in its intent to shake-up a family law system, which it sees as broken.

One Nation voted in support of the recent family court merger, that many experts predict will inhibit efforts to curb family violence.[1]

In Hanson’s 1996 maiden speech to Parliament,[2] she disparaged about the “social and family upheaval created by the Family Law Act and the ramifications of that Act embodied in the child support scheme.” And argued that “The Family Law Act… should be repealed. It has brought death, misery and heartache to countless thousands of Australians. Children are treated like pawns in some crazy game of chess.”

On child support, Hanson castigated that the“scheme has become unworkable, very unfair and one sided. Custodial parents can often profit handsomely at the expense of a parent paying child support, and in many cases the non-custodial parent simply gives up employment to escape, in many cases, the heavy and punitive financial demands. Governments must give to all those who have hit life’s hurdles the chance to rebuild and have a future.”

Pauline Hanson’s passionate stance on the family law system is one that aims to reduce long delays, exorbitant costs, the over-working of judges, and the overall workability of the system, that she believes does not deliver fair and just outcomes to parties.

Certainly, Ms Hanson’s aims for reform are noble and necessary to improve the fraught system, but the rhetoric surrounding her condemnation on the system is unhelpful let alone untrue.

Hanson pronounced that the system was exploited by “feminists who relish the toxic anti-man rhetoric and jaded partners who will stop at nothing to use their separation and the court system to crush their rivals, including unfounded claims of domestic violence.[3]”

The assertion that women are fabricating allegations of family violence is especially unproductive and only functions to politicise the problem and blame victims. In fact, a thorough Canadian study found that non-custodial parents, usually fathers, made 43% of false complaints compared to women, making 14%.[4]

Secondly, Hanson attested that fathers are unfairly treated in child custody orders and are separated from their children because of false accusations of family violence.[5] However, Hanson’s comments are not as extensive as she represents, with fathers being denied contact with children in 3% of court orders during 2014.[6]

Senator Hanson has expressed belief in 50/50 child custody arrangements, unless a partner has a criminal offence, history with drugs or alcohol, and proven acts of family violence prior to separation, with immediate mediation to determine timings.[7] Of course, equal shared parental responsibility does not necessarily translate to equal custody due to differences in forms of care that one parent may provide in comparison with another.

Can politicians such as Pauline Hanson have a prominent impact on Australia’s family law system?

Contemporarily, independent politicians and minor parties typically hold the balance of power in the Senate, which means they can influence the content of bills when the government requires their vote for a bill’s passage.

This occurred when South Australian Senator Rex Patrick was the deciding vote on the court merger legislation and was able to secure key amendments that aligned with his beliefs.

In the case of Senator Hanson, she has been vocal in lobbying the government for the recently concluded Parliamentary Inquiry into Family Law that began in September 2019. Her repeated advocacy for the inquiry possibly influenced her attainment of the Deputy Chair position on the inquiry.

It is likely that the Government afforded her this position to encourage her to support other Coalition legislation. This means that on issues such as family law, One Nation may have had significant influence, as exemplified by her leadership on the recent inquiry.

Even so, the fraught Australian family law system needs urgent reform. In March 2019, the Australian Law Reform Commission handed down 60 recommendations for reform of the Family Court, but not one has been fulfilled by the government.[8] These are more expert and sensible recommendations that would effectively contribute to improving the family law system in Australia, particularly in relation to costs, delays, and stress.

Hanson’s complaints about delays and costs in the Family Court and its contributions to stress, mental illness, and family violence has merit. This firm believes that funding of more expert family law judges to decide matters, reflects a higher priority by the government of expediting the horrific case load which currently exists and would go a long way to solving the aforementioned problems.

If you want to discuss advancing your family law dispute to resolution please contact Rowan Skinner and Associates Lawyers for a no obligation phone call on 9995 9155 to discuss your case.

Bibliography

[1] Lipson, D. (2021, February 18). “A devastating moment”: Family law experts, former judges react to Family Court merger. Www.abc.net.au. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-02-18/family-court-merger-federal-circuit-court-reactions/13168506

[2] Hanson, P. (1996). Maiden Speech to Parliament: Full Transcript. The Sydney Morning Herald; https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/pauline-hansons-1996-maiden-speech-to-parliament-full-transcript-20160915-grgjv3.html

[3] Senator Pauline Hanson (2021, November 12). Hansard, Australian Senate.

[4] Martin, S. (2019, September 18). Pauline Hanson sparks fury with claim domestic violence victims are lying to family court. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/sep/18/pauline-hanson-sparks-fury-with-claims-domestic-violence-victims-are-lying-to-family-court

[5] Kha, H. (2019, October 28). The family court does need reform, but not the way Pauline Hanson thinks. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/the-family-court-does-need-reform-but-not-the-way-pauline-hanson-thinks-125728

[6] Australian Institute of Family Services. (2019, October 2). Parenting Arrangements After Separation. https://aifs.gov.au/publications/parenting-arrangements-after-separation

[7] Hanson, Pauline (2019, September 18). Senator Pauline Hanson slams Australia’s Family Law system.Nine News Australia. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mG9DAAuIju4

[8] Martin, S. (2019, September 18). Pauline Hanson sparks fury with claim domestic violence victims are lying to family court. ; The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/sep/18/pauline-hanson-sparks-fury-with-claims-domestic-violence-victims-are-lying-to-family-court