Adjournment Speech - Hannah Clarke

Adjournment Speech - Hannah Clarke

This week marks the anniversary of something very sad. It marks the day that this world lost a family in the most tragic of circumstances. Hannah Clarke and her three children, Aayliah, Laianah, and Trey, died at the hands of the man who was supposed to love, nourish and protect them. It's easy for people at a distance to say things like 'Why didn't she just leave?' when discussing this difficult issue. But, so often, that represents a massive oversimplification of the nature of the risk faced by people a situation like that which Hannah faced.

Hannah and her children died after Hannah did everything by the book, so to speak, on how a mother experiencing domestic violence should act, and none of it was enough to save her. This isn't an issue of women versus men or of picking winners or taking sides. It's an issue of the right of every person to be safe from violence from their intimate partner, whatever their sex, whatever type of relationship they're in. And it's about the right of children not to be used as weapons to hit an ex-partner where it hurts them most.

There's been a lot of talk about family law in the chamber this week, and I'm pleased to say that as a government we have legislated the first step in getting the family law system into shape. Getting simpler, clearer processes so that Australians can understand and use the system as simply and inexpensively as possible is a big part of that. A single point of entry so there's no confusion about where to go to get help; improvements to wraparound services, with the Lighthouse project; $56 million for family relationship centres, for mediation; almost $50 million for family advocacy and support services; $84.8 million for specialist domestic violence and health justice partnerships—I could keep going. There's just so much money going into this space. Indeed, those numbers can be overwhelming.

We've also made it so that a person accused of domestic violence can't cross-examine their alleged victim as part of family law proceedings, because, in cases of coercive control, that too can be manipulated as a form of abuse. And we've provided legal assistance to make sure that nobody's case is prejudiced as a result. We've co-located police officers and child protection officers in family law registries so that information-sharing is easier and we can do a better job of keeping people safe. But the job is still far from done. There are still too many stories of good people getting hurt by those they love. There are too many stories of good people being kept from their children as an act of manipulation, as a way to wound an ex-partner.

As a government we've got a substantial piece of work to consider, from the Australian Law Reform Commission on the family law system, and we'll soon have another from the joint select committee on the future of the family law system. These will inform the next steps that we take.

But family violence isn't just about what happens in the court. Prevention is key. I've been really pleased to support the work of the StandbyU Foundation, which acknowledges that domestic violence is in many ways a product of isolation, and so the steps it takes use both technology and human-to-human connections to reconnect people to a network that will protect them from moments of vulnerability. It's wonderful to see big organisations like Westfield and the Scentre Group get behind them by offering premises.

I recently spoke to Sue Clarke and I have in the past spoken to Lloyd Clarke, Hannah's parents. They now advocate for laws that deal with coercive control. Sue showed me the data that demonstrates that a partner whose behaviour is not physically violent day-to-day but is instead coercively controlling actually has a higher risk of ultimately being part of a fatal situation. That's something we just can't abide. I support their work to find ways that we can, consistent with the values of freedom and personal responsibility, always do all we can to stop coercive control being used against people who are supposed to love and protect one another. Hannah, we remember you this week, we remember your beautiful children and we reaffirm in this place—in my heart, at least—a commitment to do all we can to make sure your story isn't repeated.