Tracy Signal is a devoted mother and grandmother.
But on January 25 the Howick woman will have to take her 24-year-old daughter and two grandchildren back to Australia where her daughter’s alleged abusive ex-partner is waiting for them.
Tracy’s daughter, Taryn, who is a NZ citizen, fled Australian April this year with her two-year-old to escape what she says has been years of physical and emotional abuse from her ex-partner who also suffers from drug addiction.
Taryn had lived in Australia away from her family with little financial and emotional support until she plucked up the courage to leave.
Shortly after arriving in NZ, Taryn found out she was expecting her second child who has recently been born in New Zealand.
A few weeks after she arrived she told her ex-partner where she was and he has since applied to have her return their child to Australia under the Hague Convention, an international agreement that covers parental child “abduction”. It provides a process through which a parent can seek to have their child returned to their home country.
Tracy says under The Hague Convention, Taryn has been given until the end of January to return to Queensland without consideration for her safety and well-being and that of the children.
Taryn will return to Australia with nowhere to live and no support.
They have been given till December 20 to provide proof that they have purchased flights back to the Gold Coast which is expected to cost more than $2000.
If Taryn fails to do so in time, Tracy says she risks having her ex-partner fly to New Zealand and legally take the child back to Australia with him.
Tracy says, thankfully, because Taryn’s youngest son who is only two weeks old at the time of print, was born in New Zealand, the Hague Convention cannot be applied to him.
Tracy says once her daughter returns to Queensland, even after a custody settlement has been reached, she might not be allowed to leave the state without the permission of the father.
Already the family has spent more than $30,000 on legal fees because legal aid is not given to court cases taking place in another country.
Earlier this month Radio NZ reported that, according to lawyers, the convention, which hasn’t been changed since 1980, is being used to re-victimise women who have fled abusive relationships.
RNZ spoke with Gina Masterton of Griffith University in Queensland who is working towards a PhD, with her focus on The Hague Convention.
Masterton told RNZ 70 per cent of Hague Convention cases involved domestic violence because women are forced to flee Australia because of a lack of support from the government.
“If you come here as a New Zealander for example, and you’re not an Australian citizen, you get no access to Centrelink, no access to legal aid, no access to refuge because they use your Centrelink money to stay there,” Ms Masterton said.
“So you’re really at a disadvantage. You can work, if you can find a job, but you don’t get any of the support from our government if you’re not a citizen.”
She said her research shows that most of these women have already reported domestic violence to the police and taken out violence orders,protection orders and court orders.
“This is a last resort for them, the leaving and putting the distance between themselves and the abuser,” Masterton says.
Tracy says she is outraged that the government would order Taryn to return to a place where her safety is at risk.
“It’s so exhausting and heartbreaking. A man who has physically abused my daughter, and who is also addicted to drugs and is rarely sober is allowed to dictate where my daughter can live,” she says.
“She is scared for her life and this is why she left the country without asking his permission because she knew if she did she wouldn’t be going anywhere and she was fearful of the retaliation she would face.”
Tracy says Taryn has never told the father he cannot see the children and has offered to have him visit them in NZ where they would provide him with food and accommodation.
She has also agreed to work out a custody agreement that involves alternating visits between Australia and New Zealand in the school holidays.
She says when Taryn and her ex-partner do speak, he verbally abuses her.
“He is doing this out of spite, not for the wellbeing of his child. He doesn’t want the child; he just doesn’t want my daughter to have her,” she says.
“I want to know who takes responsibility for the safety of my daughter and my grandchildren if they are forced to live in the same place as him.”
Tracy has been to Pakuranga MP Simeon Brown who says he will work to ensure Taryn and her children are given all of the legal support they are entitled to in Australia.
Tracy says she wants to warn other New Zealanders that the Hague Convention is outdated and puts vulnerable women and children at risk.
“People hear the word ‘abduction’ and they think this order protects children who have been wrongfully stolen from one of their parents.But my daughter is just desperately trying to keep her children safe.”
The Times has reached out to experts in Hague Convention Law and await a response.