Domestic violence experts criticise Victorian GP who asked whether family court is ‘dangerously goading fathers’

<span>Domestic violence campaigners have criticised the comments of a Wangaratta GP.</span><span>Photograph: Warodom Changyencham/Getty Images</span>
Domestic violence campaigners have criticised the comments of a Wangaratta GP.Photograph: Warodom Changyencham/Getty Images

A doctor who queried whether fathers commit acts of domestic violence because they are dangerously goaded by “terrible decisions by the family court” has drawn fierce criticism from medical colleagues and domestic violence campaigners.

The Wangaratta GP Dr Julian Fidge on Thursday shared an ABC news story on X/Twitter. In the story, the mother of a toddler killed by his father in a suspected murder-suicide expressed her grief at the “evil and cowardly act of violence”.

Related: Mother of murdered two-year-old shares grief over ‘evil’ act as NSW health minister condemns email to killer’s colleagues

The bodies of James Harrison, 38, and his two-year-old son, Rowan, were found on 19 May in East Lismore. The child’s mother, Sophie Roome, raised concerns when Harrison failed to hand over the child after a planned custody visit.

Fidge wrote on X/Twitter: “What sort of treatment of this father caused him to commit these awful acts? As a GP, I hear many stories of terrible decisions by the family court that seem designed to antagonize the father. I often wonder if the judges are dangerously goading fathers.”

Dr Karen Williams, who runs New South Wales’s Ramsay Clinic Thirroul – Australia’s first women-only trauma hospital – said: “These are not benign comments, they are dangerous and can do enormous damage.”

Williams said the comments could be interpreted as suggesting that the custody battle was to blame for the child’s death. She expressed concern they could have a direct impact on the mother, her family and the community.

Williams said the comments could undermine faith in doctors generally as people to disclose family violence to.

“Women and children need to be able to attend their GP and know that it is a safe place to disclose,” she said.

Williams was among several health professionals and domestic violence advocates who replied to Fidge online, expressing concern about his comments.

Annabelle Daniel, the chief executive of Women’s Community Shelters and chair of DV NSW, said in response to Fidge’s post: “Your lack of knowledge about the public health issue of domestic & family violence, its causes, and the drivers for filicide are concerning.”

Related: What are Australia’s family law reforms, and how will they help women and children fleeing violence? | Zoe Rathus

Fidge told Guardian Australia he believed “none” of what Williams said was true.

“I have never questioned who is responsible for these awful murders, or alluded to the idea that someone else is responsible,” Fidge said.

“Clearly, the person who committed the murder is responsible for the murder. I would like the murders to stop, so I am wondering about the motivation of the perpetrators. I specifically questioned the treatment of the perpetrators by the courts, because this type of murder is often associated with a context of fights surrounding the custody of the child or children.

“My Twitter question clearly inquires about what could be driving this rage, not responsibility for the act.”

Fidge said Daniel was “wholly ignorant about myself, my education, my training and my experience in any field”.

“Contrary to her assertions, there is scant research that explains the motives for these incomprehensible murders,” he said.

“Annabelle Daniel’s personal attack has certainly warned me off asking any further questions about domestic violence and will have a chilling effect on anyone else who has questions in this field.”

The president of the Royal College of GPs, Dr Nicole Higgins, said in a statement to Guardian Australia: “I have read the comments made by Dr Fidge. There are clear reasons provocation was removed as a defence in Victoria. 49% of the women murdered in Australia last year were killed by a current or former intimate partner. That isn’t the fault of those women, and it’s not the fault of the courts.”

Higgins added: “I should not even need to say that these comments do not reflect the views of the college.”

A spokesperson for the medical regulator Ahpra said it was aware of the comments made by Fidge and “other posters stating that they are going to raise concerns with us about those comments”.

• In Australia, the national family violence counselling service is on 1800 737 732. In the UK, call the national domestic abuse helpline on 0808 2000 247, or visit Women’s Aid. In the US, the domestic violence hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Other international helplines may be found via