The months are passing by quickly, Easter has come and gone, and the middle of the year is close. In the words of Dr Seuss “how did it get so late so soon?” This report sets out some upcoming family events, outcomes of the 2019 Federal Budget, brief discussion on recommendations handed down on 10 April 2019 from the Family Law Reform Commission’s inquiry into the Family Law Act, and changes in Queensland for 16 to 17-year-olds wishing to be vaccinated.
5 May 2019 International Day of Families
5 May 2019 Applications close QLD Family and Child Commissioner – Recruitment for Youth Advisory Council (www.qfcc.qld.gov.au)
15 May 2019 – 21 May 2019 National Family Week (https://nfw.org.au/find-an-event)
30 May 2019 Applications close NCWQ Bursaries
1 June 2019 Global Day of Parents
2019 Budget – Family Violence
Since the last report we have had a Federal election set for 18 May 2019. Partial Federal Budget funding leading up to the election includes $328 million over the next four years to fund prevention, response, and recovery initiatives as part of the Fourth Action Plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Children (2010 to 2022). The Fourth Action Plan addresses different forms that abuse can take, with specific measures to address risks faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, and women with an intellectual disability.
Part of the $78 million for housing for women and children fleeing family violence was an amount of $10 million dollars allocated for Specialist Family Violence Services, that included couple-based counselling and dispute resolution services. Within this context front line services have raised concerns around safety issues for women in couples counselling and mediation.
The Government will also provide an additional $30.5 million over three years, in part to provide legal assistance services for those experiencing family violence, and $22.5 million for the establishment of the National Centre for the Prevention of Child Abuse. An amount of $10 million over four years will be invested in educating Australian children, parents, and teachers about how young people can stay safe online, with $7.8 million going towards the establishment of a National Public Register of Child Sex Offenders. 1800 RESPECT will receive $64 million to expand their services.
In relation to youth mental health and suicide prevention there is $461 million allocated.
In relation to education for children, the Federal government has provided $453 million to extend the National Partnership Agreement of Universal Access to Early Childhood Education to ensure that every child has access to a quality pre-school education for 15 hours a week before school. And at the other end, universities will receive $93.7 million over four years for scholarships for students who study at regional campuses.
What is missing however, is an increase to Newstart, an increase to Commonwealth Rent Assistance, and provisions for superannuation for Australians in unpaid care work, the majority of which are women caring for a child with a disability. There also continues to be a lack of action on issues such as women’s homelessness.
Australian Law Reform Commission – Final Report – Review of the Australian Family Law System
In 2017 the Australian Law Reform Commission received Terms of Reference to carry out an inquiry into the family law system. The key themes that emerged from this inquiry is that the family law system is unsafe, does not enforce parenting orders adequately, is overly complex, expensive, slow, and lacks accountability. The Final Report was presented on 31 March 2019 (“Family Law for the Future – An Inquiry into the Family Law System”) and provides a road map for improvements to the system of justice, and legislative amendments. The Final Report comprised 60 recommendations and can beaccessed at https://www.alrc.gov.au/inquiries/family-law-system.
Perhaps the most radical recommendation is the abolition of the Federal family courts. This would leave the State and Territory courts to make orders not only under the Family Law Act (1975), but also under State family violence and child protection laws. The other recommendation is the abandonment of the 2006 reforms that spoke to the option of shared care, or equal time arrangements. There is no question that a child benefits from having a close and continuing relationship with both parents following separation, however where there is family violence, mental illness, neglect, or other complex issues, children are left vulnerable to further abuse. This recommendation is relevant to Resolution 7 – Rights of the Child and Protection of the Child’s Interests endorsed by the NCWA within the Third Action Plan (2016-2019) of the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Children (2010-2022).
Other proposed changes to the Family Law Act (1975) include provisions for determining what arrangements would promote the best interests of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander children, and repeal of the requirement to consider the possibility of a child spending equal or substantial time with each parent. Property division has been simplified and there is a focus on encouraging amicable resolution between separating parents. Provision is made to assist parents to understand their final parenting orders and further supports in court, including an Indigenous Liaison Officer, and support for people with a disability.
Recommendation 50 proposes the establishment of a Children and Young People’s Advisory Board which would inform policy and practice about children’s experiences within the family law system. The ALRC also suggest that Section 121 of the Family Law Act (1975), which restricts publication of family law proceedings to the public, be redrafted. It is hoped that the Government and all politicians will give careful consideration to these recommendations.
Family Law and Vaccinations
For separating parents, under the current Family Law Act (1975) there is a presumption of equal shared parental responsibility. In these cases where parents have not agreed on medical procedures, parents have had to get orders from the court in order to get children vaccinated (http://classic.austlii.edu.au/au/journals/UTSLRS/2017/28.html). This has been expensive, time consuming, and has prevented children whose parents are separated from accessing services that are accessible to children whose parents are not separated. And although this will not assist separated families with younger children in overcoming these barriers, on 5 April 2019 the Queensland Government made the following announcement:
Teens Can Now Get The Flu Jab at Pharmacies
Queensland teens can now receive vaccines for highly contagious, preventable diseases from their local pharmacist. Minister for Health and Ambulance Services, Steven Miles said the changes would make it easier for 16 and 17-year-old Queenslanders and their parents. From tomorrow, Queenslanders from 16 years of age can now get vaccinated for influenza, pertussis (whooping cough), and measles at a pharmacy, previously only GPs could vaccinate under 18s.
“Queenslanders aged 16-and-over can get their vaccinations without parental consent, so these changes will make it much easier for them to access vaccinations like the flu shot. This will also make life easier for parents with teenage children.”
Mr Miles said the amendments also allow younger Queenslanders to make their own decisions about getting vaccinated. “This is a step in the right direction for Queensland to reduce the barriers for kids of anti-vax parents to gain access to vaccines for preventable diseases,” Mr Miles said “it also brings Queensland into line with other states and territories.”
As well as amending the Health (Drugs and Poisons) Regulation 1996 (HDPR), the pharmacist vaccination drug therapy protocol will be revised to specify that a pharmacist may administer the specified vaccines to a person 16 years and older, instead of an “adult” as previously stated. Queensland’s Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young said pharmacists provide an additional opportunity for vaccination for people who would not otherwise get vaccinated.
In summary, there is progress that is being made, and at the same time much more work to be done. Together we must continue to advocate for women’s and children’s rights. Remember “when women support each other, incredible things happen”.