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‘National disgrace’: Alstergren CJ slams Australia’s rates of DV, FV

The Chief Justice of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia, the Honourable William Alstergren AO, emphasised that addressing domestic and family violence is an urgent priority as it “is getting worse”.

user iconGrace Robbie 24 April 2024 Big Law
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Domestic and family violence is a disturbingly prevalent issue that plagues Australia. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare revealed that “an estimated 3.8 million Australian adults (20 per cent of the population) reported experiencing physical and/or sexual family and domestic violence since the age of 15”.

In a speech at the inaugural National Family Violence Symposium, hosted last Friday (19 April), Alstergren CJ acknowledged how alarming domestic and family violence is in Australia.

“It is not just the one woman a week, one child every 11 days, or one man a month that dies from this terrible behaviour; it is the literally hundreds of thousands of women and children that are so badly affected by this behaviour each year, and that so many of those victims never recover,” His Honour commented.


Despite the government’s numerous initiatives, there has been no significant improvement in the prevalence of domestic and family violence. Rather, Alstergren CJ expressed that “the level of family violence in our society remains a national disgrace”.

By acknowledging the recent event that outlines “the sad fact that family violence is getting worse, not better”, Alstergren CJ expressed how “the prevention of family violence should be an absolute priority for our society”.

“It is time for all of us to expect and perhaps demand that, as a society, we have a proper, national conversation about this disgraceful conduct. That conversation should seek to properly understand the causes, to educate, to prevent and to condemn this behaviour,” His Honour stated.

However, Alstergren CJ underscored that “it is not just up to [the] government to initiate this national conversation”; rather, “it is up to all of us” to address this issue to ensure change occurs.

His Honour also expressed this is important as “we all must have a united voice where men are leading the way by saying family violence is just not on”.

Alstergren CJ expressed praise for Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus’ recent comments on addressing the urgent need for more significant action to tackle the ongoing issue of violence against women by men, in which the A-G acknowledged that “there is a crisis of male violence in Australia”.

“We need to act. We need to educate ourselves. Men need to step up. We need to talk to our sons, to our colleagues, to our friends. We need to work together to [find] a solution. [I want] everybody to think about this differently. What we need is for an acknowledgement of the devastating consequences of violence, of the deep distress that’s being felt in our community right now.

“We’ve seen too many instances of violence against women. Enough’s enough. Australians deserve to live their lives in safety,” Dreyfus commented.

Alstergren CJ noted the purpose of holding last week’s symposium as twofold.

He expressed that he first wanted to ensure that people were informed about the initiatives that the courts have taken to make sure the system is “more responsive in cases involving family violence”.

This is an important step to ensure that “identification or risk is made more thoroughly and earlier in proceedings, but also that we ensure that the case management of those matters is appropriate”.

His Honour also outlined how the symposium would allow government officials to “hear from those on the frontline in this battle against family violence”.

“We want to hear from the user groups of our courts and what they’re saying firsthand. We want to gain an understanding of how we can make sure we can help them in the extraordinary job that they are doing.

“Whilst the court process is important, we want to hear about what is being experienced before and after the matter has been to court as well. Hear about the trends and challenges you are seeing, the types of family violence and abuse and whether there are clear signs of increases in any particular area,” Alstergren CJ stated.

These important conversations are vital as they enable us to provide the “best system of justice we possibly can to Australian families”.

“It is vital so that we may better serve those who are going through some of the most stressful times in their lives, and for many of them, a very dangerous time in their lives,” His Honour said.

During the symposium, which was attended by key stakeholders from every state and territory representing the family violence and related sectors, including frontline services, government, and victim support, Alstergren expressed his appreciation and gratitude towards them for the work they have done.

“I know all too often you are not thanked, are working in extremely difficult citations and are underfunded. I want to say, on behalf of all the judges, registrars and staff – thank you,” Alstergren CJ concluded.