Justice Legislation Amendment (Family Violence Protection and Other Matters) Bill 2018

Written on the 27 July 2018

27 July 2018

COUNCIL 

Second reading 

GEORGIE CROZIER (LIB- Southern Metropolitan)

Resumed from 21 June; motion of Ms PULFORD (Minister for Agriculture).

 

I am very pleased to be able to speak to the Justice Legislation Amendment (Family Violence Protection and Other Matters) Bill 2018. A lot has been said about family violence and the terrible scourge that it is on our society and our communities and how governments of all persuasions have been taking this issue very seriously, from the federal government down to local councils. I note that in recent days one local council that I was reading about only this morning, Casey City Council, is taking a very good stand in relation to the community needs out there, and I am sure other councils right around the state are doing a similar thing.

I was also reminded when driving to Parliament this morning down along Punt Road past the Richmond railway station I think Mr Finn, Ms Lovell and Ms Fitzherbert, who are all Richmond supporters, would endorse the actions of the Richmond Football Club to work with the Alannah and Madeline Foundation

Mr Finn They've been doing it for some years.

 

Ms CROZIER They have been, Mr Finn, and they have a very good relationship, but as I was driving past I noticed on the billboard the terrible statistic of a child being abused, neglected or a victim of family violence every 2 minutes. That is a very sobering statistic. It is just horrendous to think that so many children are affected every couple of minutes by neglect, abuse and the effects and trauma of things like family violence. We all know that our communities are looking at this issue, and I want to extend my congratulations to the Alannah and Madeline Foundation on taking the step and partnering with the Richmond Football Club. I understand that if the membership sign up, then that money will go straight towards the provision of buddy bags to assist those traumatised children who are found in these horrendous situations through no fault of their own.

Sadly, the latest crime statistics also state that we have 75 000-odd family violence incidents occurring in this state each year from there the recidivist rate is far too high but that figure shows there are too many children, too many women and their families, and too many men quite frankly, being affected by the scourge. Those women and children do have brothers, fathers, uncles and grandfathers who are all affected by the impact of family violence. I think we need to understand the full impact of family violence and how it affects the community.

I note that when this bill was being debated in the Assembly a few members made note of the horrendous and horrific murder of Eurydice Dixon and the commentary around violence against women. Clearly the horrendous circumstance that young woman found herself in, the tragedy of that whole event, did ring out to the community because it was such a random, unwarranted, horrific act. But I caution the Premier and government members to reflect on that because that was not an act of family violence; it was purely and simply an evil and criminal act of violence against women. It did not happen behind closed doors; it had no relation to family violence. It was a horrendous crime, and horrendous crimes evil crimes, unwarranted crimes like that need to be thoroughly investigated, and I understand that that crime of course has been, but I felt that putting that murder into the family violence sphere, where there were so many people talking about that, did not do justice to the poor woman who tragically lost her life or to those around her. Yes, it was an act against a woman, and too many women are the victims of family violence no question. Too many women are victims of violence. In fact in recent days another young woman lost her life through an act of criminal, violent behaviour. In this state that is a far too common occurrence across our community in general. I think that all Victorians are very concerned about the implications of violence in our community, and of course they are very concerned about family violence incidents and what is occurring behind closed doors, as I said.

I know that there have been specific reforms in this state and they have been undertaken for well over a decade, and the Royal Commission into Family Violence highlighted this very clearly. Again I want to acknowledge the work of the royal commission. It did some very significant work understanding and highlighting some of the impacts, and of course we are debating this bill as a direct result of a number of recommendations that came from the family violence royal commission, and I will come to that a little later.

I looked over the reforms that the royal commission perhaps did highlight in 2002 when the Women's Safety Strategy: a Policy Framework 200207 was launched, and it recommended the establishment of a statewide steering committee to reduce family violence. Obviously there were other reforms and initiatives throughout a number of years. I know that in the Baillieu-Napthine governments, under the stewardship of Ms Wooldridge, there was significant reform done. She really did a huge amount and made an enormous investment in fact at the time it was a record investment for any Victorian government. I know that this government has obviously put in significantly more money a record amount into this area across a range of portfolio areas, as it promised it would do, but my point is that Victorian governments have been building on these reforms.

I think that is very important to note, because it was under Ms Wooldridge that the Action Plan to Address Violence against Women and Children 201215: Everyone has a Responsibility to Act was published, the Koori family violence police protocols were launched and the Ending Violence against Women and Children: Further Initiatives for Victoria's Action Plan to Address Violence against Women 201215 was introduced. All of these initiatives were bringing the community together to understand the impacts of family violence, to try and address those specific communities that perhaps have over-representation, to really identify the needs of women, children and others who are impacted and wrap those services around so they can access them directly when needed. I think we would all agree that is exactly what is needed. It is about how you deliver that, I suppose, and how it is done and the priorities of the approach of the government. It is not easy, I grant that; it is complex and difficult work. It is taking in many, many different agencies and individuals across the state, and I want to acknowledge those people that work in the sector. It is very difficult work. It is very complex work; it is very emotional and challenging work in many instances, and they see some horrific circumstances.

I want to acknowledge the work that they do in protecting those that they come across and providing them the support that they need to perhaps steer them into safety and away from harm. That goes from Victoria Police down to the agencies on the ground, like McAuley Community Services for Women, who provide a women's refuge and do extraordinary work in that area, and there are a whole range of others who are involved in providing those services to women, specifically.

I would also like to acknowledge the work of the federal government, who from the Prime Minister down have taken this issue very seriously as well. They have put it on the agenda, bringing all the states and territories together to address this as well as to look at strategies that might address this in certain communities. We have seen too much abuse at local levels, and I think that the federal leadership is very important because this does need leadership. It needs leadership from those in positions of power, like the Prime Minister, or here in Victoria as the government is doing in trying to address this. I think we all agree that we as legislators and others have got a responsibility to do that, addressing those concerns that so many Victorians have spoken about and will continue to speak about. It is important also for them to continue to speak out about the issues that are affecting their communities and the impacts.

I did actually ask the sector to respond to this bill to see their concerns, and I did receive some responses from various stakeholders who were largely in support of the bill. Some did have some concerns about some of the practicalities in relation to the body-worn cameras and the security issues and impacts around that, as well as how the information for complainants would be protected and other areas. Organisations like Safe Steps and others put their thoughts to me, and I thank them very much for providing that information to me, because there are a range of concerns that they have around that, but they are largely supportive of the bill. I will ask some questions in committee about some of the concerns that have been raised with me directly and other questions I also have.

If I could just return to the bill, the purpose of the bill is to amend the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005, the Family Violence Protection Act 2008, the Criminal Procedure Act 2009 and the Magistrates' Court Act 1989 to support the implementation of six recommendations of the royal commission. I mentioned in my introduction the work of the royal commission, and this bill does encapsulate six of its recommendations.

Recommendation 34 basically extends a therapeutic treatment order system to young people aged 15 to 17. As we know, children are some of the most vulnerable. When they are caught up in violent situations, the trauma has long-lasting impacts that can be very profound. Many of them need to have support and that therapeutic treatment to enable them to get over what is often a very horrific and devastating circumstance of witnessing family violence and the trauma that that brings.

That can then become learned behaviour. I mean, if that is what they see growing up and that is all they know, then that can also become the norm for them. We have got to be understanding and cognisant that some of these kids that are brought up in these violent relationships or households think that that is the norm. So early intervention, in terms of therapeutic treatment that provides the necessary treatment for them, to prevent them from becoming perpetrators or having the ongoing impacts of violence, abuse and neglect, is very important.

I just want to read from the summary and recommendations of the Royal Commission into Family Violence, where the commission said:

The family violence system must take account of the co-occurrence of family violence and sexual assault. Additionally, early intervention services for children and young people displaying sexually abusive or problematic behaviours should be adequately resourced for all age groups, and the therapeutic treatment orders regime in the Children's Court should be extended to include young people aged 15 to 17 years.

That is an important finding and recommendation in relation to that very extensive trauma in relation to the concerning issues that can arise out of those sexual behaviour occurrences or displays that children may have that can then go on to have very profound impacts on them and others later in life. That is the extension of that order, as per recommendation 34, that extends that from ages 14 to 15 to now include 15 to 17-year-olds. I think that is a very commonsense, practical approach that was very much required. Children obviously develop in different ways and at different levels and some will need ongoing treatment, and to have the ability for the courts to extend that order from 14 to 15-year-olds to 15 to 17-year-olds is welcome.

Recommendation 58, the next recommendation that this bill captures, is around trialling body-worn cameras to collect statements from family violence incident scenes. There has been a lot of work and commentary around this. I know that other jurisdictions have trialled body-worn cameras for police who are attending family violence incidents in people's homes, and indeed trials have started here. I note that on the Victoria Police website they talk about the pilot being conducted and the trial having been rolled out in Epping and Ballarat. The police have put that out there to say to people, 'Look, if you see police officers wearing body-worn cameras, it is because they are being trialled here'. They say:

If you happen to be around Epping or Ballarat you may notice police officers wearing body-worn cameras. Victoria Police has started trialling this new equipment to see if they can play an effective role in the Victorian policing environment.

This gives police the ability to collect evidence and to be able to understand what is going on in the communities. They acknowledge the work of the royal commission and say:

The Royal Commission into Family Violence found there is potential for body-worn cameras to be a beneficial tool in the response to, and management of, family violence incidents.

I think that is a welcome initiative as well so that the police, the courts and those who are involved in any proceedings will have real and accurate evidence of what occurs at the time.

 

There is some thought that in heightened environments, when people are in family violence situations, it can be very emotional, it can be very fluid and it can be very difficult to assess actually what has gone on, and the physical and emotional environment may not exactly reflect what has played out. But at least this will give the police an ability to provide that evidence in a visual or audio form that will give those involved in court proceedings a really thorough understanding of the work done by the police and the scenarios that they have found themselves in when they have been called to a family violence incident. It is still very alarming that the police are called to family violence incidents every few minutes every 8 minutes or whatever it is across Australia. These are just extraordinary statistics for what the police are dealing with all the time.

We have to acknowledge the work of the police when they are being constantly called out to speak to sometimes repeat perpetrators, and the frustration they have too. People who are very violent and commit these heinous crimes should be called out. They should have the full force of the law applied to them, because far too many injuries and deaths are occurring among, I grant, women in the majority, but also men that are caught up in same-sex relationships. The violence that occurs in same-sex relationships is not widely known and it is not widely reported. I have spoken to many people that say that more research needs to be undertaken in this area to understand what is actually going on and how to support those people. We know of the high-profile murders that have occurred in domestic situations in those same-sex relationships, so it is not only women who are caught up in this; it is also men and, sadly, it is also children, who are sometimes murdered by mothers and fathers in horrific circumstances.

We have to do more. We have to send a strong message to perpetrators, and if they have got criminal records, that has to play a part in relation to their behaviour. It is unacceptable: the total disrespect and disregard people have for one another in too many instances is astounding. A few weeks ago I, along with Matthew Guy, announced a policy for a family violence disclosure scheme, Right to Ask, Right to Know. It is based on Clare's Law, a law that has been in operation in the United Kingdom for a number of years now as a result of Clare Wood having tragically lost her life to a partner who murdered her. She dated him through an internet dating site and through Facebook. That is occurring more and more. People are dating people through internet dating sites. There is a dreadful article today actually, talking about the murder just recently of a young man by a woman; they found each other on a dating site. This is happening more and more.

I want to acknowledge in my contribution today Samantha Handley, a young woman who has spoken out about this. Like so many other victims of family and domestic violence, she has spoken out publicly about her experience. She spoke very succinctly and explained the circumstances of her position, where she found out through Facebook the horrific crimes that her former partner had committed on her child. She came to speak to us and suggested that Victoria have a Right to Ask, Right to Know disclosure scheme. I was delighted to be with Samantha and Matthew Guy when we announced that policy a few weeks ago. It is in jurisdictions around the world throughout the UK and in New Zealand. It is in New South Wales, and South Australia will soon implement it I think in October this year.

We have said that we will do this if we have the privilege of holding government in November. We will pilot this Right to Ask, Right to Know disclosure scheme because we think it will keep women safe. It will give those women or their loved ones, or anyone who has concerns about a partner's behaviour, the ability to go to police and ask for a criminal record check. That would be undertaken by the family violence units. There are 34 across the state, and they are always looking at this sort of thing. The police have a lot of resources in relation to family violence, but we need to do more, I grant that. This scheme would certainly have assisted someone like Samantha Handley if she had asked. Her ex-husband went to the police and asked about her partner's behaviours and if they had any records, but they were powerless to do anything. This is a commonsense and practical approach. It is a sensible approach that people can undertake. They have a right to ask, and a right to know.

I was astounded by the response from the Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence. She was critical of the scheme and made such a ludicrous remark in response to this scheme. It just demonstrates that there is not goodwill in this space in terms of a practical approach. This scheme was part of the Victoria Police recommendations to the royal commission. Just because the royal commission did not make a recommendation does not mean it should be disregarded, as the scheme is running and operating elsewhere. We could trial it or pilot it; surely we can do that. I was astounded and quite frankly disgusted with the comments from the minister about that. I think it is a slight on many women who have a right to ask and a right to know.

I am delighted that a lot of Victorians are very much in support of the scheme. I have received feedback through media outlets and elsewhere, and people are saying, 'Yes, that is sensible. Why can't we understand what is going on if we are concerned? Has this person got a criminal past?'. The details were spelled out fairly explicitly, and I will not go through them line by line, but people would be able to ask for a criminal check. Then if the police or the agencies felt that there was any immediate risk or any risk to a woman, children or others, support services could be put in place immediately. People would be empowered to make a decision about their relationship based on the information that is disclosed to them and in the knowledge that they had the security of the police and agencies to support them.

The agencies that do support women and children fleeing domestic violence do a fantastic job. That is what this is about; it is prevention. We are talking about women and children who are affected by horrific family violence crimes. Surely this is a practical, sensible step to take, and I urge the government to change their minds and support the coalition's policy on that.

 

Recommendation 60 extends the functions of the Family Violence Court division to other courts, and again this was highlighted in the royal commission's findings and recommendations. The Family Violence Court divisions provide specialist services, including services such as trained family violence registrars, applicant support workers, co-located legal and non-legal support services, dedicated police prosecutors for police-initiated applications and family violence training for magistrates and staff. With those mandated types of services the courts are able to ensure that initiatives such as requiring somebody to attend a men's behaviour change program or the like can be extended. The royal commission also found that more was needed to be done in the courts. It recommended that these services be extended to other courts and that courts should be supported so that they could provide the services that they may not have in addition to what they might already have. Again, that will need significant resourcing and will have requirements, but I think a lot of the work is already undertaken. It is a practical measure to ensure those services are provided and that those Family Violence Court division requirements are applied in other court settings.

Recommendation 74, which the bill goes to, provides for the rollout of online application forms for intervention orders. We live in an age where we are all using technology on a day-to-day basis. There is certainly a sensible requirement for this to occur when we can and to ensure the privacy that is needed around these online applications. It is my understanding that the Magistrates Court of Victoria will roll out an online application form which is based on the Neighbourhood Justice Centre's online application form for all applicants for a family violence intervention order across Victoria. It is far more in real time and will provide immediate assistance to family violence victims. It will improve access to those in rural and regional areas and I will ask about that in committee. It will reduce the need for victims to attend court to initiate proceedings and will provide immediate linkages to dedicated support services, thereby increasing victim safety.

That off-site contact centre, to enable all of those things that I have just mentioned, will give people greater flexibility, and with an online application for intervention orders a court might deem it an urgent request, and it will be able to process that online application.

Recommendation 79 empowers 'courts to make interim family violence intervention orders on their own motion'. Again, if they see a risk, they can provide that intervention order through their own processes. I will not go into too much detail but, again, the royal commission did look at the entire court system how it applies and what is required. I have to say that this is a very difficult and complex area of work because of some of the systems that are in place the IT systems that the courts operate under. I know that when I was visiting the courts I was quite astounded to see that they were basically on MS-DOS from the 1980s, it looked like to me. There was a need for more support and structure around that IT infrastructure, and I think that has been worked on over subsequent governments to ensure that the courts can operate in an efficient way. They have got an ability to do that, and I think that the ongoing requirement for IT throughout all of these processes is a sensible one. We are using it, as I said, in our day-to-day lives, and the ability to make online applications for interim family violence intervention orders through the court system is included in the recommendations by the royal commission.

Recommendation 156 is to 'expand the statutory examples of family violence to include forced marriage and dowry-related abuse'. I am very pleased that this recommendation is finally addressed in this bill, because this has been an issue that I have been made aware of for quite some years. I want to place on record my thanks to Dr Manjula O'Connor, because she has been the driving force behind the dowry-related issues. She has been fearless and quite forceful in her requirements for members of Parliament to understand what this actually means within various communities specifically Indian communities, but other communities as well and that it is a form of abuse.

I know Dr O'Connor had a very close relationship with former Premier, Ted Baillieu, in this and I want to place on record the work of Ted Baillieu because he ran a series of petitions on this very issue on behalf of Dr O'Connor. The former Premier was also very concerned about dowry-related abuse and what needed to be done. It is 2018, and we are finally getting some recognition of this. I am very pleased that the royal commission looked at the submission and spoke to Dr O'Connor and others about the specific issues around dowry and how it is a form of abuse and it is. It is quite astounding that trading and selling off bits and pieces for marriage is still happening, and for those young women who are subject to that and the ownership that it implies, it is a form of abuse. Again I place on record what has been done by Dr O'Connor and all who have been associated with the work she has been doing over a number of years.

Before I get onto forced marriage, I just want to read into Hansard the feedback I received from Dr O'Connor. She said in an email to me:

It is important to note that the bill does not make the practice of taking and giving dowry illegal, but merely illustrates, by use of a statutory example, that where certain abusive behaviours are used to demand or receive dowry, this can constitute family violence.

So it is about the giving and taking of dowry, the coercion of threats and the emotional, physical and psychological abuse that is attributed to that that is really part of family violence and it needs to be recognised in that context within the family violence act.

I still think there could be more done on this in relation to forced marriage and dowries, because they are a real abuse of women's rights. It is oppressive and it is abuse, and I think we can do more on that. This is 2018. In the very civilised society that we live in in Australia, there is no room for forced marriages, there is no room for young girls to be taken off overseas and brought back married. I do not support the cultural components that allow this, and I will put it on record that I think that if we are to live in a civilised, modern society where we are protecting the rights of women and young girls in forced marriage situations, then we need to call that out too. In my mind, that is abuse of the worst kind.

We have seen some horrific examples of that in recent times, about young girls being married off by imams, out of their control. The parents who allow that, I also strongly object to. This is not acceptable, and I wish there was more done by some of those that are in positions to ensure that. Yes, we have federal legislation in the Marriage Act 1961 which can address it further at a federal level, but really, in terms of our local communities, they need to be doing more to speak out about this practice.

There are some very brave women within some of these communities who are talking about the abuse that is occurring with forced marriage, female genital mutilation or other abuses of young women in Victoria. I want to acknowledge them and also thank them for taking that brave stance, because often they are speaking out of their own communities, which is very difficult for them, and they can be then subject to threats and other things in their own communities. I want to place on record the significant work that some of those women are doing in those communities.

The bill does go in part to the government's agenda, and that is what they promised. They said they would hold a Royal Commission into Family Violence, and they did. The report was tabled in this place in March 2016. It is two and a half years on now and a number of recommendations have been implemented. The royal commission at the time put in place time frames to have various recommendations implemented. One of the strong things, and one of the things I am very supportive of, is the implementation monitor and the overseeing of how the recommendations will be rolled out and implemented. I have spoken in this place before about the work of the implementation monitor, and I think it is incredibly important.

As you would have heard me say before, the prioritisation of the recommendations has to be done in a sensible manner. There are concerns about where it is all going and where the government's priorities really are lying in terms of rolling out all of the recommendations. I hope it is not just to tick a box in an election year to say that they have done it, because I believe that would undermine the work of the royal commission and what needs to be done in a prioritised manner.

People are telling me they have got concerns about what is happening with the 17 hubs. The government has announced that five hubs are in operation, but no-one can tell me where they are operational or how they are actually working. This is the sort of thing that we have got to be very careful about. We do not want to undermine the work of the sector and what is being done; we want a good outcome for all concerned. It has got to be about the protection of women, children and, quite frankly, men. I will say it again: and men, because they are involved in family violence incidents too. Around 20 per cent of men are victims of family violence, and they are often the forgotten voice in this argument. I have mentioned same-sex relationships. We do not even have stats for what is going on there. There are a whole range of complex issues that need to be teased out.

We want to be able to say, 'Yes, this body of work is not concluded with this royal commission'. It is not concluded. The government acknowledges that it is going to take years to implement all the recommendations of the royal commission. We need to get it right; we need to have a sensible discussion about it. It needs to be prioritised in the right fashion so that we are putting the resources where the protection will be meaningful and will make a difference. We need to be doing that sooner rather than later, and as I said, not just ticking the boxes in an election year. I hope the government takes note and I am sure they will of the implementations.

Basically the government needs to stop, pause, take a deep breath, have a look at what they are doing and not try and rush this out but look at the priorities and get the priorities right. What is needed? Have we got duplication here? Are the systems going to work? How are all the IT systems going? Are they talking to the departments and one another? Are they talking to the agencies? Yes, in theory, all of this sounds very grand and sensible, and it will make a difference, but in reality, it is actually a lot harder to achieve. That is why I believe it needs to be a very careful response. I think all Victorians expect that. This is a large body of work and it is a large promise that has been undertaken by the government to have all the recommendations implemented, every single one of them.

President, as you would know, we have a bipartisan approach to dealing with family violence. We all do. We all want to end the scourge of family violence. As I said at the outset, we have all been working on this. Governments of all persuasions, at all levels, for over a decade, have acknowledged this work and have been working on it. This government does not have ownership of this issue. Yes, they promised a royal commission. They have done that. That is fine. But it is the work on the ground and the real, meaningful differences that need to be made that is the important thing, because the statistics are still far too high those 75 000. The recidivist numbers whatever they are are too high, and tragically the numbers of children involved are way, way too high.

Every single day we see horrendous stories of child abuse and neglect. And in this state we have got close to 3000 children in child protection cases who do not have an allocated caseworker, nearly 3000 children in the state of Victoria and the government says, 'We're doing more than we ever have. We've put in this, we've put in that', but we have still got close to 3000 unallocated children that we know about. We have got a lot of children who are in kinship care who have had their cases closed off informally. They do not have a caseworker now. They are in kinship care, so no-one follows them up; they are expected to survive on their own. So I think the number is probably much higher than 3000. But that is for the government to defend and provide the real figures on.

As others have in the debate in the Assembly, I want to extend our thoughts to all those people that have lost their lives through the tragedy of family violence in recent times and over years. We know there are too many and we need to be doing more. The coalition of course will not be opposing this bill. Indeed we are looking forward to seeing how many of these recommendations that I have mentioned today will be implemented and will make a difference.

Again can I place on record all those people that provided feedback to me from No to Violence, McAuley Community Services for Women, Our Watch, Jewish Care Victoria and Safe Steps, and Dr Manjula O'Connor, the dowry advocate who provided such great guidance, and all those others who have spoken to me over the past three and a half years. Thank you. I am sure there will be more. We know there is more legislation coming in, so I will be speaking about the work that we need to be doing, how it will make a real difference in those communities, as I have said, and make a difference to women and children and keep them safe. I urge the government again to support the policy that I announced with Matthew Guy and Samantha Handley a few weeks ago, for the right to ask, right to know family violence disclosure scheme.

 

 


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