Family Violence Protection Amendment Bill 2017

Written on the 9 May 2017


9 May 2017

COUNCIL

Second reading

 

GEORGIE CROZIER (LIB - Southern Metropolitan)

I am pleased to rise this afternoon and speak to the Family Violence Protection Amendment Bill 2017. As other members have already highlighted, this issue has multiparty support in relation to addressing the very issues of family violence and the various ways that it affects so many members of our community. As has been highlighted on many occasions, it is not any one demographic, it is not any one area within our society or our community that is affected by family violence; it can come in various forms. It can cross all age barriers and both genders. It can particularly affect some of the more vulnerable groups of our community, such as those from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) environments, women with disabilities, people in same-sex marriages this issue crosses all boundaries, as has been highlighted on many, many occasions by many, many people.
Any serious violence against the person is a crime. I think that is fundamentally what we all agree on. Terrible violence occurs. There are no doubt some dreadful crimes horrendous and horrific crimes that are perpetrated against women and children, and we know the long-lasting effects on children who are subject to abuse. They can be very substantial indeed. Children who have witnessed or who have been subjected to abuse and neglect can have lifelong implications that can play out in different ways. One has to only see the many children who have been subjected to abuse to see how that plays out.
Very often and too often when those children grow up into their teenage years or into adulthood they can be affected by a whole range of issues. They might be subjected to mental health issues, they can have difficulty in engaging in their schooling and they can fall out with the law. They can start off engaging in petty crime which can then escalate. We know that. We know the issues, and clearly the support and rehabilitation for many of these young children is critical. At a federal level the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, and obviously the committee that I was involved with here in Victoria, has seen and heard from many victims who are now into their adult years, and some of them into their very elderly years, who have lived their whole lives dealing with the implications of abuse. I think we are all in agreement in relation to abuse.

This bill does a number of things. The intention is to improve the safety of victims of family violence, including those children who are subjected to family violence. There is no question about that. My colleague Mr Rich-Phillips has very succinctly highlighted a number of clauses and the main provisions of the bill, and I will just go to those.
The bill amends a number of acts. It amends the Family Violence Protection Act 2008 and various other acts, including the Criminal Procedure Act 2009, the Magistrates' Court Act 1989, the County Court Act 1959 and the Coroners Act 2008, and it includes amendments to the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008, of which nearly all of them come out of the recommendations of the royal commission. The particular one in relation to the Public Health and Wellbeing Act is to assist in creating a stronger leadership role for local government in the prevention of and response to family violence.

I make particular note of that because I think governments at all levels are particularly focused on doing what they can in relation to family violence, and I want to commend all levels of government. Certainly the federal government has a very large focus in relation to addressing this issue and has invested in various initiatives, and that is also the case at a local government level.


Business interrupted pursuant to sessional orders.

 

 

9 May 2017

COUNCIL

Second reading

 

Ms CROZIER (Southern Metropolitan)

. . . As I was saying before question time, the Family Violence Protection Amendment Bill 2017 amends the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 to give greater leadership roles to local government. I made the point before question time that governments of all levels are doing an enormous amount in committing to ridding our communities of family violence or domestic violence. As we know, it goes across various demographics. There are contributing factors, such as mental health, drugs and alcohol, and financial barriers  these can all be causes of family violence  and I think that these issues need to be addressed as well as the other ones that have already been highlighted.

In relation to this particular bill I just want to go to certain aspects. The Royal Commission into Family Violence did speak about children and young people  and I have spoken about the impact family violence can have on those individuals  and I take note of the report and the recommendations. In relation to some of the statistics, they are, as we know, very alarming. Page 58 of volume 1 of the royal commission's report says:

In 34 per cent  of all family incidents recorded by Victoria Police in 201314 there was at least one child present. This proportion remained relatively stable in the period 200910 to 201314.

In the five years from July 2009 to June 2014 the number of affected family members aged 17 and under listed on FVIO applications in the Magistrates Court increased by just over 20 per cent  from 19 353 in 200910 to 23 332 in 201314.

That was a split of around 50 per cent male and 50 per cent female in those statistics, but they are large numbers and, as we know, they have large ongoing implications and impacts for those children that have been subject to family violence.

In his contribution Mr Rich-Phillips spoke about a number of the main clauses of this bill. He went through and articulated in his debate very clearly certain provisions around those clauses and the impacts. I have not got time unfortunately to go into the detail that he went into, but I do want to make a couple of points firstly in relation to clause 32, which provides that the first mention date for family violence safety notices must be within 14 days. It is currently five working days of the respondent being served. As has been highlighted, I think there are some concerns about the volatile nature of some of these perpetrators, and Mr Rich-Phillips raised some concerns in relation to dragging that out. We all want this to be dealt with. A safety notice is a temporary notice given by the police to protect a person. I know that the former government amended the Family Violence Protection Act 2008 to ensure that those safety notices were dealt with far more expeditiously.

I now want to mention clauses 54 and 55 of the bill. Mr Rich-Phillips has already indicated that the opposition will be moving amendments to these clauses. They really go to some issues that were raised in the child abuse inquiry that I chaired and the Betrayal of Trust report. I just wanted to go back to this bit because I think there was a lot of discussion at the time in terms of how certain members of the community might respond to this. Certainly there was the concern about mothers not reporting abuse of their children. In our report we make it very clear. As Mr Rich-Phillips said, clauses 54 and 55 provide that a prosecution for the offence of failure to disclose a sexual offence committed against a child under the age of 16 years in section 327 of the Crimes Act 1958 must not be commenced without the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the DPP.

As I said, in our inquiry we addressed this issue, but I want to make it very clear that in the report we did spell this out on page 496 of volume 2 of the report, under the heading 'Universal responsibility to report a serious crime':

The committee takes the view that every member of society has a moral and ethical responsibility to report to police any knowledge they have about serious crimes committed against children.

Of course sexual abuse certainly fits that bill. Our report goes on to say:

As discussed below, the committee considers that it is necessary to amend the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic.) to make it a crime for any person who knows or believes that a serious offence has been committed by another person against a child, and has information that they believe might be of material assistance, to fail to report that information to police  The committee considers that this is the most effective way of addressing the criminal abuse of children in organisational settings.

I am emphasising 'organisational settings' because that is why the then government, the coalition government, did amend the Crimes Act 1958 and put in section 327. That really was to give protection to children. It further protected children by placing the onus on those people in positions of responsibility or anyone knowing that a crime had been committed against a child to report it to the police. If you look at section 327 of the Victorian Crimes Act, it says:

(2)   Subject to subsections (5) and (7), a person of or over the age of 18 years (whether in Victoria or elsewhere) who has information that leads the person to form a reasonable belief that a sexual offence has been committed in Victoria against a child under the age of 16 years by another person of or over the age of 18 years must disclose that information to a police officer as soon as it is practicable to do so, unless the person has a reasonable excuse for not doing so.

This is the point, because of course a mother who feared for her safety or feared for her child's safety would be covered by this provision in this act. That is a reasonable excuse for not reporting  if her child had been abused in a criminal fashion and she feared for her safety or her child's safety. That is why the opposition is concerned about these clauses in this current bill that we are discussing today. We feel that removing those two clauses will potentially provide greater protection for those children that need it. It is not by any means targeting women, mothers or anyone who is responsible for caring for a child and it comes to their notice that that child is being abused or having criminal behaviour perpetrated against them. There has got to be some common sense around this.

I think the government has failed to acknowledge that the Crimes Act actually does cover this and it is unnecessary to go to this extent. The shadow Attorney-General pointed this out very clearly in his contribution to the debate in the other place. It is not that the opposition has an objection to this bill  quite the contrary; we are trying to improve and are doing what we can to further enhance the safety of any victims of family or domestic violence. It is not that. It is just that it is deemed to be unnecessary. To have that made clear I think is an important point to make.

I wanted to make the point about why the Crimes Act was amended in 2014 following the Betrayal of Trust inquiry, because it is very clear what the intent of the committee I was involved with was. It was very clear that it was about those individuals who knew that organisations or individuals within organisations had an obligation, therefore that was to enhance the ability to further protect children.

There are other elements of the bill in relation to various other clauses that have been highlighted, but can I say that I am pleased that governments at all levels are taking the issue of family violence or domestic violence very seriously. I think the community has had the issue highlighted. I went to the candlelight vigil that Safe Steps ran last Wednesday. I was with members of the community who were there. The list of women and children who have sadly and tragically died at the hands of perpetrators is a growing list each year. I think all of us want to see those numbers reduced and all of us want to work toward doing whatever we can to ensure that that occurs.

 


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