Independent MP and former barrister Zali Steggall has put herself forward to sit on the Morrison government's controversial inquiry into the family law system, warning it needs to be "balanced" and "handled sensitively".
Ms Steggall, who was a barrister specialising in family law before entering Parliament this year, cautioned that debates around the family law system - and the new inquiry - should focus on what is best for children.
"It's really dangerous to polarise this as being mothers' rights versus fathers' rights. The core of the system is it's the child's rights," she told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. She added that relationship breakdowns were a "highly emotional time" and could involve women who are victims of domestic violence. "I think it needs to be handled sensitively."
Ms Steggall, who has been nominated by the House of Representatives' crossbench to sit on the committee, said there would be MPs in both houses who will be "keen to make sure the inquiry is a thorough, balanced and sensible [review]".
The Senate voted to establish the committee on Wednesday, despite an attempt by Labor and the Greens to block it. They described the inquiry as a "deal" and a "stitch up" with One Nation. The party's leader, Pauline Hanson, is angry about fathers being shut out of custody arrangements and is set to be the deputy chair of the inquiry.
Labor will have representatives on the committee.
Senator Hanson has also accused mothers of making up domestic violence claims to win custody battles. Legal experts have strongly rejected the claims, including the first chief justice of the Family Court, Elizabeth Evatt, who said Senator Hanson's claim was "not true" and "quite appalling".
Ms Steggall said it was not her experience that people falsified claims of domestic violence.
"I certainly wouldn't rule out that it happens, on all sides of the ledger. But what I also know is there are high instances of domestic violence that do occur."
Ms Steggall, who is the member for Warringah in NSW, said family law was an extremely difficult area. She noted that most people's first and only contact with the judicial system was family law, during a relationship breakdown.
"So it is very confronting and people really struggle with that process. I think any way we can improve that is good," she said of the inquiry. "But it should not be used as a personal vendetta or a personal agenda."
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the family law inquiry on Tuesday. It is due to take a wide-ranging look at the family law system, including the financial costs to families, issues with grandparent carers and the handling of apprehended violence orders.
Family violence groups say a new inquiry is not needed, pointing to a parliamentary inquiry into family law and family violence in 2017 and an Australian Law Reform Commission review that made 60 recommendations in April. Despite this, Senator Hanson has been lobbying for a fresh inquiry into family law and custody issues. She says her office is approached regularly with stories from men who say their female partners have falsely accused them of domestic violence.
Our Watch chief executive Patty Kinnersly said one woman was being killed each week by their current or former partner in Australia, and 39 had been killed violently this year. One in six Australian women has experienced physical or sexual violence by a current or former partner. One in four has experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner.
- SMH/The Age