The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) has been tasked with reviewing the nation's domestic violence laws for women and children fleeing violent partners if they cross state borders.
ALRC president professor David Weisbrot said that family violence remains a profound problem in Australia and current legal frameworks may not be working.
"The protection of women and children is predominantly dealt with under state and territory family and domestic violence laws and child protection laws. These laws vary across the jurisdictions, which may result in women and children being subject to different levels of protection depending upon where they live. There also may be problems recognising and enforcing apprehended violence orders across state and territory borders," he said.
"The ALRC will explore whether the complexity of Australia's federal system causes problems, such as inconsistent or incompatible protective orders; any duplication of effort by federal, state and territory courts; or any gaps or inadequacies in the cooperation between those courts and state and territory agencies."
Commonwealth Attorney-General Robert McClelland said the overlap of family law and child protection laws could "fail children who fall through the holes created by confusion about jurisdictional responsibilities".
McClelland will ask his state counterparts to improve the interaction between the two sets of laws next month.
Amnesty International welcomed the move and the Government's announcement that a multi-disciplinary training package for professionals working with families at risk, including the police and legal profession, was being developed.
The national director of the Australian arm of Amnesty International, Claire Mallinson, said the review was a step forward and that the legal protection and support a woman received should not depend upon her postcode.
In a separate move, McClelland also proposed legal reforms, which include the creation of a national register of domestic violence orders and increasing the role of lawyers in resolving family disputes.
Changes to the Family Law Act to lift the legal threshold for mandatory reporting of child abuse were also flagged.
McClelland has commissioned a pilot project to fund lawyers for mediation in limited cases where violence is alleged.
The Howard government banished lawyers from some aspects of family law disputes, forcing separating couples into mediation with counsellors.
The ALRC will embark on community consultation, including the use of its online "Talk to Us" website, with a final report and recommendations due by 31 July 2010.
- Sarah Sharples
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