Barry Williams is National President of Lone Fathers Association of Australia Inc. Here he talks about the system, what’s going wrong and Turnbull’s disgraceful silence…
By Corrine Barraclough
First man in Australia to get custody
My wife left home in 1973, leaving me with four small children. The youngest was one, the other three were all under 13. In 1975 I was awarded custody of my children. The judge said I was the more stable parent. He said at the time, ‘You’re the first man in Australia to win custody of their children under the 1975 Family Law Act.’
A group called Parents Without Partners was established in Canberra in 1974. I was part of the group and became president of one of the branches but it was a non-political organisation and I couldn’t lobby government under their constitution at that time.
I saw injustices in the family law arena so I established The Lone Father’s Association Australia (LFAA) as a voice for equality in Family Law and social security as it was called then.
My first success came in 1977. I placed a tent embassy on the lawns of Parliament House (Old Parliament House) and went on a five night, six-day hunger strike to have the single mum’s benefit changed to the supporting parent’s pension. This allowed dads with children the same benefit if any of them were put in the same situation as me.
Malcolm Fraser became Prime Minister and said if I ended the strike I’d get a meeting with him. So I did. Before that, there was no help for fathers. I know that because there was no help for my kids and me.
Family Law system in Australia
I received telegrams of congratulations from Ministers and Senators, and LFAA grew. In 1980 I was awarded the Queens British Empire Medal he B.E.M. I established branches in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and SA, then Tasmania, NT, a total of 21 branches. The government made us a Peak Body.
We were receiving thousands of requests for help from men, women and children including grandparents, uncles, aunts and partners. One year we toped 32 thousand calls. Hundreds of these calls were threats of intended suicide. It was so bad I knew I had to immediately get training in suicide prevention.
I’ve seen the struggle and suffering
I’ve got blood on my carpet in this office. A man came in whose partner had stabbed him in the shoulder. He refused to go to the police to make a report. I did suicide counselling training early on to be able to cope with situations that arise. I’ve taken a rope off from around a man’s neck. I’ve taken a man out of his car when he had the garage closed and was going to take his life. I see the desperation building.
Now? The system is broken
It’s nothing but a moneymaking racket. When you’ve got a system that’s making $24 billion a year, someone’s making a lot of money out of it. Lawyers are making money and the courts can’t cope. Judges tell me they can’t cope.
John Howard improved the system. I was proud to be involved as a consultant helping with that. He was the only one who had the wisdom and courage to make crucial changes.
Turnbull won’t even reply
When Turnbull announced he was going to give $200 million towards violence against women, I wrote to him. I said, ‘You can’t do that. It’s public money, you can’t take sides.’ Last year I was asked to speak at three conferences; one in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. They wanted to hear about my experience and how I’d worked with the government for all these years. But all three of them refused when I said I wanted to talk about violence against men, women and children. They wouldn’t let me say it. They will only talk about violence against women. It’s an outrage. It’s not the truth.
I’ve written to Turnbull three times, I haven’t had a reply. I told him he will lose votes to Pauline Hanson and Nick Xenophon. People can see what’s going on. But this government can’t afford to lose the feminist vote. People have to start speaking up.
Why I have to speak out
I’ve worked tirelessly since the 1970s in this area. I haven’t spoken out because I get a bit of government funding to help run this place. It doesn’t pay for staff; we have a bit towards running costs. I can’t stay quiet anymore.
The government has to listen. We have to make them.
There is terrible violence against women and children, no one is denying that, but it’s not all one-way. People are desperate. Men are taking their lives because they can’t see their kids. I have to speak up.
Lone Fathers Association of Australia
- We run programs here, family courses. We try to encourage mums and dads to treat their children the way they should. Even when parents break up, it shouldn’t affect the children. Children need their fathers as much as they need their mothers. www.lonefathers.com.au