Buried in an obscure nook of the budget was a humane and overdue measure, a good news story so pure it’s puzzling the government didn’t promote it beyond a passing mention in Treasurer Scott Morrison’s budget speech.
This has long been a nasty courtroom quirk in family law, where the cases, by definition of having reached court, are often violent and always toxic.
So far, despite numerous political tamperings with the Family Law Act 1976, there has been nothing to stop a female party to proceedings being forced to submit to the hostile questioning of the man who has abused her – and despite the best hopes of the Men’s Rights Movement (on which, more later), it is almost always men who are the perpetrators of family violence.
Other measures were announced as part of this package, but they received almost no coverage – even though they raised some eyebrows among family lawyers, women’s advocates and even members of the Family Court.
These measures include yet another review of the Family Court system (a parliamentary inquiry is already underway) and the establishment of quasi-judicial bodies called Parenting Management Hearings, which worry many working with domestic violence victims, because the parties are not allowed lawyers.
“There is a bit of nervousness around where this will end up given the crossbench situation,” said one source within the women’s advocacy movement.
The “crossbench situation” is a reference to one of the main platforms Pauline Hanson ran during her successful bid for re-election: to abolish the Family Court.
The men’s rights movement is one of the brightest stars in One Nation’s constellation of support, right up there with the Polaris of the anti-vaxxers and the Sirius of the anti-Halal brigade.
The men’s rights activists (MRAs) form a disparate but vocal coalition with strong lobbying power – along with the One Nation connection, they have close links to the LNP’s George Christensen and the former Family First party, which is now integrated into the Australian Conservatives, headed by Cory Bernardi.
Bernardi was condemned in February for tweeting a link to an article by a prominent American MRA, Daryush Valizadeh, known for proclaiming that rape should be legalised on private property (he later claimed he was being “satirical”).
The precise influence of MRAs over the government is difficult to gauge, but given its strong links to the crossbench, and the crossbench’s elevated importance in the current parliament, its agenda could easily become a part of any deals cut.
And when you dig a little into the fact-free wonderland of the MRAs, where women are both witches who abandon their families, and little bitches who moan when they’re punished for it, that prospect is terrifying.
The MRAs hate the Family Court. They believe it is biased against fathers. They despise what they say is the influence of the “domestic violence industry” on the family justice system – the same influence that has just achieved the announced ban on cross-examination of victims (the Women’s Legal Service first made this recommendation in 2011).
MRAs insist women frequently perjure themselves with false accusations of domestic violence against their ex-partners, and they face no consequences for their perjury.
Despite the explicit direction at the heart of the Family Law Act requiring judges to consider shared parenting time when making custody orders, MRAs insist dads are forced into a legal position where they have to beg to see their own children.
‘You can’t tell me women don’t lie’
They link the highly emotive issue of male suicide rates to the family court system, and to the child support system.
The high male suicide rate is a national crisis, but it’s unlikely the MRAs will ever make a dent in it – chiefly because they do not promote men’s rights as much as they seek to abrogate the rights of women.
Sue Price, the spokeswoman for a group called the Men’s Rights Agency, told me the incidence of women lying to get AVOs against their former partners was growing.
“You can’t tell me women don’t lie, of course they do,” she said when contacted by phone this week.
“The majority of people who do tell lies are women. That’s been confirmed by surveys into the NSW judicial system and also the Queensland magistrate.”
I requested she send me evidence of these surveys, and Ms Price emailed two men’s rights lobbying documents.
A ‘weapon of revenge’
The first document claimed “Unfortunately, people are being encouraged to complain about the most minor of slights and even encouraged into making false allegations” and that “the domestic violence industry that promotes ‘women as victims of male patriarchy’ is playing a significant role in separating families”.
The document also stated: “There is serious speculation from the legal profession that only 5 to 10 per cent of [Apprehended Violence Order] applications are genuine. Other whistleblowers who work in the industry confirm these figures but are unable to come forward for fear of retaliation against their families and losing their employment.”
Ms Price also emailed documents that focus on the male victims of domestic violence – a common tactic of the movement, despite its insistence that it is the feminist-domestic-violence-complex that claims victimhood.
Even the CEO of the more moderate men’s rights group, Dads In Distress, claims AVOs are used by women as a “weapon of revenge”.
Speaking to News Ltd in January, Barry Guidera lamented the fact fathers have to pay child support even when they are not seeing their children, as though providing for your offspring is something you only do when guaranteed to get a return for yourself.
Guidera also overlooks the most scandalous fact about the child support system in this country – its $1.6 billion in outstanding payments, owed overwhelmingly by fathers.
(A voice message left by me on Thursday on the Dads in Distress number went unreturned)
In stark legal reality, within the context of child custody, men’s rights are a misnomer, as are women’s rights – strictly speaking, neither parent has any legal rights over their child.
They only have responsibilities – but strangely enough, the MRAs don’t seem to deal so much in those.