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Family Law - Is The Man The Loser?

The group Forum Of The Round Table held a public forum at Parliament House, NSW on the evening of Tuesday 16 June 2009 on the topic of “Is the man the loser in family law?”

Two of the speakers were Dads on the Air team members John Stapleton and Peter van de Voorde. Transcripts of their speeches follow below.

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FINAL VERSION SPEECH PARLIAMENT HOUSE 16 JUNE 2009

Just to clarify, in case anyone hasn’t realised, the poster for this event was unfortunately incorrect and I was labelled as the founder of Dads In Distress (DIDS), rather than as one of the founders of Dads On The Air (DOTA), by mistake. While it would be an honour, I don’t actually have any connection with Dads In Distress; but we do have in the audience Phil York from DIDS, who would be happy later to give the coal face view of the issues we have come here to discuss.

I would like to thank the organisers Forum Of The Round Table and everyone else who has helped to put on this event.

For those of you who don’t know, Dads On The Air is a community radio program run out of 2GLF in Liverpool in western Sydney which by dint of pure perseverance has become the longest running fathers show in the world. Our topic today, “Is the man the loser in family law?”, is shorthand for much broader debate on whether the style of custody order most common in the Family Court, and most family courts around the Western world, that is sole-mother custody, is really the best for our kids. And whether or not the almost universal anti-father bias in our public institutions in child support, child protection and legal aid is producing the best outcomes.

There isn’t much doubt family law is biased against men - unless you want to discount the voices of 100,000s of fathers here and around the world.

Dads On The Air would not exist if family law was not biased against fathers. It was the collective outrage of a group of heartbroken men which meant when the opportunity came up back in 2000, we started a dads show. We’ve gone on to attract a talented team with journalistic, entertainment and internet experience. The first few years must have been a bit of a strain on the audience, with long spiels against the impacts of family law and elaborate deconstructions of domestic violence or anti-father ideologies.

None of us had any radio experience, but we have been fortunate to find ourselves in an era when there has been plenty of material to broadcast. We have made mistakes. The program today is very different to what it once was. While we continue to follow Australian family law and child support issues more closely than any other media outlet we also pursue more broader debates.

Dads On The Air has been proud to broadcast a range of voices little heard in the mainstream, as well as having politicians, authors and academics who’s voices, at least on these subjects, are often ignored by gender study courses and journalists alike. Dads On The Air was born not just out of a sense of injustice, but out of frustration with the mainstream media’s failure to take men’s issues seriously, often confusing social affairs reporting with feminist causes.

We have been proud to provide an outlet for a number of groups including the Shared Parenting Council of Australia, the Men’s Rights Agency, the Fatherhood Foundation, Fathers4Equality, Fairness In Child Support, Lone Fathers and Dads In Distress, mostly sad dads who want to see more of their kids. The single most barbaric thing any civilisation can do to its citizenry is the removal of children, yet this happens every day. They’re told it is in their children’s best interests. They often show signs of post traumatic stress disorder, repetitive, obsessive, fragile, fighting injustices they have no hope of solving. We’ve broadcast their voices, taxi drivers, teachers, firemen, policemen. It does the country no good to have a body of such disaffected people.

But we’ve also tried to be open to the many complexities of the debate, and guests have included Diana Bryant of the Family Court, then Attorney General Phillip Ruddock, the head of the family law inquiry Kay Hull and many others. Over the years we’ve also broadcast some of the world’s best known father activists, including Fathers For Justice founder Matt O’Connor, the brain behind Britain’s most sensational stunts, including climbing Parliament House, Buckingham Palace and bridges across England. Author of Family Court Hell Mark Harris, jailed for waving at his children as they drove past him on the street.

Recent guests such as Professor Stephen Baskerville, author of Taken Into Custody, argue the long march through the institutions is almost complete and the divorce regime comprises the most totalitarian institutions ever to arise in the western democracies. Families have been systematically portrayed as dangerous places for women and children.

Men have been systematically propagandised as violent, abusive patriarchs or historical relics. Separated men have been ridiculed as nothing but aggrieved litigants. He argues the divorce industry is a serious perpetrator of human and constitutional rights violations. No political party and no politicians question it. No journalists investigate it in any depth.

Other guests have included John Hirst, author of Kangaroo Court: Family law in Australia, who tracks the public perception as a wonderfully progressive court to become one of the country’s most hated institutions. He said: “I cannot see the way by which the Court can be rescued. Until there is fundamental change, it will continue to give offence.”

Commentators such as Warren Farrell, author of several books The Myth of Male Power: Why Men are the Disposable Sex and Father and Child Reunion have provided unique deconstructions of the domestic violence, child abuse, child support, family law and social welfare industries predicated on the vilification of men. He claims the traditional image of male-as-oppressor is inaccurate and has hindered both genders, leaving men feeling undervalued and women angry.

We’ve also interviewed many women critical of the anti-father bias in family law, including, most fascinatingly, Erin Pizzey, founder of the first women’s refuge in Britain, who has been critical of the way the refuge movement was used to perpetuate a radical anti-male agenda. We’ve also interviewed a number of non-custodial mothers. Recently one mother, Diana, who copped all the false allegations and alienating behaviour commonly perpetrated on fathers, brought tears as she spoke of parking opposite a school just in the hope of catching a glimpse of her children.

It is telling that amongst academics who have come on the show, the University of Western Sydney is the only dedicated men’s study unit, the Men’s Health and Information Resource Centre. John MacDonald and Michael Woods have examined the poor outcomes amongst separated men, while Men’s Health Australia has argued for gender neutral approaches to domestic violence.

This is but a small sample of the numerous authors and groups we have interviewed, many focusing on the impacts of family law and its anti-father bias.

It is common, perhaps even fashionable in family law circles, to blame the litigants for their own problems. The fact they are silly enough to get bound up in complex and expensive family litigation is sniffed at. But unfortunately separated parents have to have family law orders in order to gain payments through Centrelink or that much reviled institution the Child Support Agency.

Nothing sends a shiver up a politicians spine more than the sight of a separated dad clutching a large file of legal documents making a beeline for him or her at a public function. For these things are insoluble. Their grief and their sense of aggrievement cannot be assuaged by a few rote letters to department heads. Family law creates an enormous well of pain. How can this politician helps this poor bastard, who has just been through the worst time of his life, who has lost his children, his home, much of his assets and income, his dignity, his social position, his sense of self worth.

The issues which affect men are not being addressed. One simple example: On the Dads On The Air website we have a counter which estimates the number of clients of the Child Support Agency who die every day. We estimate the figure at around 12 a day, probably an underestimate. Every fathers group in the country has linked family law and child support with the high death rate amongst separated men. Where are the inquiries, the concern?

We covered the family law process in Australia begun by the previous Howard government closer than any other media outlet. There was ample evidence during the family law inquiry, including most powerfully from many grandparents, of the pain the present system creates. We interviewed many people who hoped the well of misery would be resolved. It is deeply unfortunate in our view that the previous Howard government baulked at true reform of family law, despite widespread public support, and even those modest reforms keeping father’s in children’s lives could now be wound back. But at least now a detailed record of the hopes and frustrations of so many people is actually on line, documented,undeniable. Available for future researchers.

I often wonder how younger generations of fathers, those you now see walking their kids to school or in shopping malls with their children climbing all over them, will deal with all this. Surely there are enough cautionary warnings to suggest further reform is needed so broken hearted dads and children unnecessarily deprived of their fathers becomes a thing of the past.

All is not lost. But governments are wise to listen to the voices of the people over the those of their own tax payer funded academic, bureaucratic and judicial elites. I hope when the history of all of all this is written Dads On The Air will be seen as having had a civilising influence on the debate, making available voices and points of view which may otherwise have been ignored. Men are the losers under the present family law regime, but so are we all. Thank you.

John Stapleton
Program Director
Dads On The Air

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PARLIAMENT HOUSE SPEECH 2009

Thank you ladies and gentlemen.

It’s a great honour to be invited to speak here tonight, especially on the topic of “Family law – is the man the loser?”

It’s certainly a very emotive subject which touches a raw nerve with many people, including myself, and tonight i speak to you, as a casualty of what can only be described as a dreadful experiment in social engineering, that’s gone horribly wrong.

Family law – is the man the loser? Well of course he is! Because the only winners in family law, are those involved with the administering of family law, which has now ballooned into a multi-billion dollar international industry.

Unfortunately contrary to community perceptions, in the jurisdiction of family law, equality and justice are missing in action and i see the real losers more as being the many millions of responsible non custodial parents around the globe, who have been forcibly removed from their biological children against their will, by this industry.

So as to the question of “is the man the loser” I would have to say a resounding yes, but qualify that, by saying he is not alone, because equally so, are responsible non-custodial mothers and i hasten to add that the greatest losers of all, are those who do not have a voice of their own, and rely on us to speak for them, in the hope they can somehow escape the nightmare they are forced to live, and I speak of course of “the children”

What drives non-custodial parents like myself is grief, pain and absolute outrage, and it saddens me greatly to witness the continuing lack of community awareness because,

These are human rights violations, and denying its citizens their fundamental human rights, are the policies of a morally failed state, which are universally regarded as unacceptable.

But you see, historically we’ve been here before many times, and sooner or later, the tide’s going to turn. It took many years for the world to recognize the injustices perpetrated against Indigenous populations, Slavery, Apartheid, Black Civil Rights and so on.

These injustices were also ignored for many decades due to community ignorance. Unfortunately we’re repeating the same injustices under another name against a different group, and once again witness this same community ignorance.

Saying SORRY to one deserving dispossessed group, while at the same time completely ignoring the dispossession taking place right under our noses, smacks of hypocrisy and is contemptible.

I fully applauded the long overdue apology to the stolen generation and the Indigenous population. The fact that it took us 200 years to understand the damage we inflicted on this vulnerable group by denying them their fundamental human rights for so long, is an indictment on the level of our compassion and empathy. Unfortunately during these 200 years of community ignorance, the voices of reason were ridiculed and brushed aside.

It’s estimated that the stolen generation numbered approximately 50,000 children. We now know the horrendous ramification of this “Best Interest of the Children” policy debacle, which ironically was administered by someone with the title of “PROTECTOR OF ABORIGINES”.

But sadly, the figure of 50,000 children representing the Stolen Generation, pales into insignificance when compared to the current level of forcible separation of children from their parents.

Let me give you some clear evidence, to illustrate the depth of the problem.

According to the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures:

1. There are now almost 700,000 Australian children who no longer have any meaningful contact with their non custodial parents.

2. There are also 312,000 non custodial parents who no longer have any meaningful contact with their children.

When you add the estimated 1.5 million extended family members such as grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, etc who are also denied their ties of kinship with those much loved members of their families, you find that more than 2.6 million of the nation’s citizens are already affected.

And the current so called protector of “the Best Interest of the Children”?

THE FAMILY COURT OF AUSTRALIA.

Incredibly both parents and children, have been forced to go cap in hand to this immoral State institution, for more then 30yrs now, only to walk away with bloodied noses. Without parenting rights and stripped of their children and family wealth, which has left them financially and emotionally destitute, many parents are forced to walk away in utter despair or risk facing a jail term. Then to add insult to injury, they are offensively labeled ‘deadbeat’ parents, and are mercilessly persecuted by heartless child support agencies.

No scientific evidence has ever been produced anywhere, to show that large numbers of non custodial parents are voluntarily abandoning their children. Yet this is what is promoted by those who wish to continue with the current failed policies, and while individual examples can always be found of any reprehensible behaviour, such as Domestic Violence etc, these should never, be allowed to be promoted as representing the behaviour of the majority group.

It comes as no surprise then that so many children are neglected and abused in our community. It occurs because checks and balances have been removed by allowing the forced removal of hundreds of thousands, of responsible, protective and loving parents from their children.

I put to you this question, how on earth are responsible non custodial parents supposed to meet their duty of care and responsibility obligations to their children, when the State is allowing the illegal removal of children from their non custodial parents with absolute impunity?

This has to stop!! It’s madness!! How much longer do we think we can continue to keep on removing up to a quarter of the nation’s children from the ties of kinship with half of their families, before it starts to tear apart the very fabric of our society?

No society can withstand a sustained attack on the biological bonds of its citizens and escape the inevitable disastrous consequences. Yet we stand idly by and allow a dictatorial Family Law Industry, to continue to impose its perverted will on our society.

How much longer are we going to accept the insane notion that the Best Interest of a Child is somehow best served by leaving them in the care of a sole custodial parent, when the outcome of this little gem is that many(not all but many) of these parents then set out to coerce the child, through a process of emotional and psychological manipulation, to hate their other parent and other much loved members of their families. Resulting in a situation where within two years there is little or no more meaningful contact with their non-custodial parent and their extended family.

Up to a quarter of the western world’s children are now growing up in an environment where hating the other parent is encouraged and rewarded. These vulnerable children know that in order to survive they have to go along with this doctrine of hate. The psychological effects on the children of forcibly having to exist in the toxic atmosphere of so much hate can be absolutely devastating.

It’s no accident that so many of our children are acting out in anger at having been abandoned in a hostile environment by a society which forces them to have to deal alone, with complex problems they can’t possibly comprehend or resolve.

Many of these vulnerable unfortunate children are growing up with perverse views and opinions, which are based on a distorted perception of reality, forced upon them by a bitter, disturbed, dysfunctional adult.

These children by and large started out with a deep love for both of their parents, yet are forced to hate and turn their back on half of their family. We simply cannot continue to sweep this injustice aside, turn a blind eye to their plight and deny them the dignity, support and protection they’re entitled to, by virtue of existing International human rights conventions.

But what is particularly disturbing, is the fact that these are outdated laws, better alternatives are now available, with other countries already well ahead of us, in Belgium for instance both responsible separated parents, are now legally recognized as equal primary care parents, who each continue to share a near equal percentage of primary care parenting time with their children, following separation.

If one parent refuses to hand over the children to the other parent at the agreed time, it’s seen as abduction or kidnapping, which is a criminal offence. It then becomes a police matter and habitual offenders face 2 month in jail.

That is called justice and equality!

If we consider ourselves to be responsible members of a civil society but continue to give up on these children, we’ve given up on our own deeply held values, abandoned our own identity, discarded our own humanity, and we need to seriously ask ourselves which principles of human decency we are still willing to uphold.

Or are we as a community now so blind, ignorant and uncaring, that we are no longer able to comprehend how it would feel, if it happened to us? Do we not realize that if we continue to passively accept this evil amongst us without protesting against it, then we are in effect cooperating with the perpetrators, and are as guilty as they are?

So in the interest of the vulnerable and helpless children of today, who are the parents and leaders of tomorrow, we must no longer deny them their human right to love and be loved by both their parents, because if we continue to fail them, history is going to judge us very, very harshly.

In the meantime, until there is real justice and equality in the jurisdiction of Family Law, I will continue to regard not only men, but all responsible non custodial parents, both men and women and especially the children, as losers

I thank you.

Peter van de Voorde
Presenter
Dads On The Air