Subject: Your questions about Dr Rikard-Bell

26 Mar 2019 From Phil Bachmann

Dear Senator McKim,

Please let me introduce myself. My name is Phil Bachmann and I am ordinary Australian who has decided to make it his business to scrutinise and improve the societal systems that dominate our culture.

I am writing to you because you've been asking questions in Senate Estimates that have, in my view, the potential to have a damaging effect on Australia's family law system. I hope, through an open exchange, that we can understand one another's perspectives and educate others in the process.

With regard to the issues at hand, let me set the scene:

In mid-2015, a freelance reporter by the name of Jess Hill presented a segment for the ABC radio which seemed to suggest that psychiatrist Dr Christopher Rikard-Bell should not be entitled to do assessments for the Family Court because, according to her:

  1. He (Rickard-Bell) said sex abuse allegations made by mothers against fathers in Family Court are overwhelmingly false but in fact they are overwhelmingly true.
  2. He said it's a good idea to interview children and alleged abusers together when in fact it’s not.
  3. He said Dr Richard Gardner was an eminent psychiatrist when actually he was a bit of a weirdo.
  4. He said Parental Alienation Syndrome is very relevant, when in fact it’s been widely discredited.
  5. He said sexual abuse allegations don’t need a sex-abuse specialist to assess the case when actually you do.
  6. He said children can be influenced to believe things that aren’t true by an obsessed parent but actually that hardly ever happens.

5 months later, Ms Hill wrote an article in a similar vein for The Monthly.

In Feb 2016, it was your turn to get in on the action. You did so by asking a Family Court official a question about Ms Hill’s work:

“Reports in The Monthly and the ABC's Background Briefing called into question the practices of some prominent Family Court report writers that are operating in private practice. ... Are you satisfied that the concerns raised in those reports have been satisfactorily addressed?”

You did not mention Dr Rikard-Bell by name, but it is clear whom you were talking about. Senator Heffernan asked a similar question in the same hearing and he named Dr Rikard-Bell.

Already, I have a concern: Two senators of the Australian Parliament treated a light documentary by a part-time journalist as gospel. Why? Surely you know that journalists favour scandal over fact? Surely you know journalists are inclined to pander to their audiences?

Seven months after you asked your question, you got a reply from the Family Court which I suppose you read. In it, Chief Justice Diana Bryant agreed that the reports from Jess Hill “caused alarm" and issued a reminder to lawyers and judges that they needed to ensure report writers comply with the standards.

It all sounds very cosy: Her Honour (as she then was) agreed with you that there might be a problem and she sounded like she took firm steps to resolve it.

But it was all hot air. A close reading of her response shows she only addressed the second point made by Jess Hill and she did so by giving directions of dubious value to people who were not obligated to follow them. Chief Justice Bryant's behaviour raises questions, but I will have to take them up with her directly.

I was ready to excuse your behaviour as clumsiness by a novice senator, but then a month ago you again assumed your perch in Senate Estimates and asked the acting CEO of the Family Court:

“Is Dr Rikard-Bell still utilised by the court as a single expert witness?”


Perhaps you didn’t consider the effect that would have? I would like consider those effects now using Edward de Bono’s “OPV” tool. This tool works by 1) listing the people involved and 2) spelling out their views.

So on the subject of, “What effects might your question have?”, let’s list the people and their views:

Dr Rikard-Bell

Other family report writers



Parents in custody disputes

General public


I hope you agree that many interesting questions arise from this exploration including:

  1. Were you right to take Jess Hill's work seriously?
  2. Why did you not follow up on Chief Justice Bryant's response?
  3. Why were you and Senator Heffernan the only two politicians to go down this path?
  4. What are the likely adverse effects of your questions?
  5. What will you be doing to minimise such effects?

I hope you will respond to me and allow me to publish your response on my new ICT platform as suggested by your first speech to the Federal Parliament (2015):

“I commit, in my time in the Senate, to exploring new ICT platforms that will allow me to have a far more genuine engagement with the people that I am here to serve.”


Editor’s notes (26 Mar 2019)

Sent via Twitter:@NickMcKim and Email:


 AssociateDr Christopher Rikard-Bell
 AssociateMs Jess Hill
 RecipientSenator Nick McKim
14 Jun 2015AssociateABC Radio Background Briefing - In the child's best interests
9 Feb 2016AssociateSenate Estimates Legal Affairs 9 Feb 2016
19 Feb 2019AssociateSenate Estimates Legal Affairs 19 Feb 2019
26 Mar 2019ResponseNote #349