Recap: WAFLPN Annual Conference
With the theme of ‘Shaping the Future of Family Law in 2021: Ideas, Innovation and Inspiration’, the WAFLPN Annual Conference took place on 25 May 2021, followed by a post-conference Workshop Day on 26 May. Held at the beautiful Burswood on Swan venue in Perth, the conference saw over 300 delegates attending in person, tuning in online or joining one of the conference livestream events organised by our Regional Representatives in Bunbury, Albany, Kalgoorlie, Carnarvon and Geraldton. Shaun Nannup kickstarted the first day of the conference with a beautiful and inspiring Welcome to Country. Tying the conference theme in with National Reconciliation Week, Shaun’s message about reconciliation, connection and healing trauma left a lasting impression on attendees and set the scene for the next two days.
Rod West performed a short opening speech on behalf of the WAFLPN Steering Committee, acknowledging outgoing Chair Karen Barker’s contributions to the Network and welcoming delegates to the conference. The energetic MC Malcolm Dix proceeded to run through housekeeping instructions and before introducing the first presentation of the day. The first session was presented by a panel from the Family Court of Western Australia, consisting of Magistrate Neil Anderson, Registrar Simon French, and the Honourable Justice Simon Moncrieff presenting in lieu of the Chief Judge. Magistrate Anderson reflected on his involvement in the Djidji Nyitti (Martu words for ‘Little Children’) initiative, a simplified and accessible family law service for Aboriginal people that was piloted in Newman. Registrar French spoke about the mediation pilot program conducted between 15 July 2019 and 30 June 2020, which offered litigants the
opportunity to participate in a Pre-Trial Conference to see whether their dispute could be settled or narrowed, resulting in an impressive saving of 334 days of court time.
During the morning tea which followed, delegates at the Burswood on Swan venue caught up with colleagues over some fresh fruits and hot drinks, with many taking the opportunity to step outside and enjoy the beautiful view of the Swan River. It was then time to hear Marilyn Metta’s personal story of living with intimate abuse and coercive control and her experience navigating the family court system over 15 years ago. Marilyn’s story of her enduring trauma clearly struck a chord with many of those in attendance as she left the stage to a standing ovation. Following on from Marilyn’s presentation, Kate Jeffries proceeded to discuss what an FDV-informed family law system would look like, and the steps that need to be taken to achieve this. If you missed or would like to review the content of Kate’s presentation, she has kindly made a copy of it available through the Member Area of the WAFLPN website. It was then time to break for lunch, where delegates continued to network and build on their learning from the conference thus far.
After lunch, Professor Victoria Hovane delivered a highly impactful presentation based on her research on the role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Law and Culture is responding to and preventing family violence. She made a strong point about the incompatibility between the ‘white law’ of the family law system and Aboriginal law, and how reforming the response to Aboriginal children in the Family Court needs to involve both these laws ‘talking’ to each other. The presentation definitely left the audience with a lot to think about, with many later citing Professor Hovane’s presentation as a highlight of the conference for them. Following a quick afternoon tea break, it was time for the final presentation of the day. The panel from the Children’s Court consisting of Magistrate Wendy Hughes, Sean Woods and Melisa Cox sharing about their involvement in the therapeutic Pilot Court. The panel’s energy and passion for their work was clear, ending the conference on an inspiring note. At the end of the day, conference speakers and delegates were invited to join the WAFLPN Steering Committee for a sundowner overlooking the beautiful Swan River.
Many of the delegates returned the following day for the two-part FDV Informed workshop.
The morning session consisted of sharing by members of the WA Men’s Behaviour Change Program Network, who talked about emerging findings as well as their own experience and learnings working across the perpetrator intervention system in WA. After lunch, the team from Stopping Family Violence spoke about FDV-Informed Family Assessments and engaged the audience in an open discussion about family violence and the family law system.
As a token of appreciation, all conference speakers were presented with gift boxes from Mettle, an Australian social enterprise that employs women who have experienced homelessness as a result of domestic and family violence. Delegates also left with their own lanterns - a reminder to keep lighting the way towards a brighter future in family law.