Prevention of Family Violence Bill 2018

Written on the 23 August 2018


23 August 2018

COUNCIL 

Second reading 

GEORGIE CROZIER (LIB)

 

Debate resumed from 9 August; motion of Ms MIKAKOS (Minister for Families and Children).

 

Ms CROZIER (Southern Metropolitan) (16:27:26) I rise to speak this afternoon on the Prevention of Family Violence Bill 2018. I note that there was a minute's silence in the Assembly today to mark a year since the former Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence, Fiona Richardson, died. I would also like to acknowledge the work of the former minister and her commitment to this area. It was very fine work that she did. As I have said previously in this place, I had a very good working relationship with Minister Richardson. I know she was very dedicated and committed to her work in the area of family violence. I am sure that government members will also be recognising her, but I wanted to also acknowledge her work. It is also a reminder to all of us with loved ones who are battling cancer and who die too young: they leave behind such huge holes in the hearts of family and friends.

The purpose of the bill, as it states, is to establish the family violence prevention agency and to provide for the functions, powers and duties of the agency; to establish the board of the family violence prevention agency and to provide for the functions of the board; and to provide for the appointment of the chief executive officer of the family violence prevention agency. I note that that appointment has already been announced and that acknowledgement was made a few weeks ago in relation to that announcement. The press release from the Premier of 19 June talked about the agency and how it will be called Respect Victoria. He also laid out what the agency would be about. I note that the CEO is Melanie Eagle, who had a former role with Hepatitis Victoria. She is obviously well connected to former members of this place and obviously to the government. I am sure that Ms Eagle will conduct her duties as required and in relation to what the expectation is.

This bill, as the minister said in her second-reading speech, fulfils recommendation 188 of the Royal Commission into Family Violence by creating an agency that will be the first pillar of the government's primary prevention strategy. That is what the government has stated, but I am not sure that the royal commission's recommendations went that far in relation to enshrining such a body in legislation like this. Certainly Family Safety Victoria was not enshrined in legislation. Recommendation 188, and I will read this into Hansard, is that:

The Victorian government resource an initiative (either inside or outside government) [within 18 months] to:

  • oversee prevention of family violence activities in Victoria;
  • provide policy and technical advice to policymakers including government on primary prevention;
  • provide to organisations technical advice and expertise on building primary prevention in their organisations and within communities;
  • coordinate research that builds evidence around the primary prevention of all forms of family violence;
  • ensure that accredited workforce development training in primary prevention is available through registered training organisations.

This Victorian initiative should be undertaken in close collaboration with Our Watch, ANROWS (Australia's National Organisation for Women's Safety) and other relevant bodies.

That is recommendation 188 of the Royal Commission into Family Violence. Of course the royal commission's report findings were handed down in March 2016. This bill, as I said, undertakes to do a number of things, including to establish this agency and provide policy advice. Later in my contribution I want to raise some points about various aspects of the bill because, as we know, some elements of it have already been undertaken.

The bill talks about a number of things. Of course family violence comes in various forms. We have the Family Violence Protection Act 2008 here in Victoria. That act sets out the meaning of 'family violence' as follows:

For the purposes of this Act, family violence is

(a)    behaviour by a person towards a family member of that person if that behaviour

(i)    is physically or sexually abusive; or

(ii)   is emotionally or psychologically abusive; or

(iii)  is economically abusive; or

(iv)  is threatening; or

(v)   is coercive; or

(vi)  in any other way controls or dominates the family member and causes that family member to feel fear for the safety or wellbeing of that family member or another person; or

(b)   behaviour by a person that causes a child to hear or witness, or otherwise be exposed to the effects of, behaviour referred to in paragraph (a).

That includes those areas that I have just described. The act goes on to describe what it means in terms of causing injury to a family member. It is very explicit.

 

 

We know that there are far too many instances of family violence. There were over 76 000 family violence incidents in the past year reported to Victoria Police. Many, many others probably thousands go unreported. Who knows? There are a lot of areas where we do not know where the violence is happening, in all sorts of forms whether that is in various cultural groups where they may not fully appreciate how the reporting mechanism may work or their obligations to report or what that would mean in terms of their own safety or their child's safety as well as there being a fear of reporting. I think we have got better at that over the past few years with the education and the highlighting of this very important issue.

As I have said a number of times in this chamber before, the work of Rosie Batty and the very high profile status she achieved after publicly coming out and talking about the tragic circumstances of the death of her son, Luke, as well as her elevation to Australian of the Year and being acknowledged in all forums for the tremendous and brave work that she has done has given a lot of women in particular the confidence to come out and report the violence and abuse they have experienced from their partners.

We also know that far too many women die each week. In recent times we have seen very tragic circumstances occur here in Victoria, in some instances within a couple of weeks. Far too many women are dying at the hands of very violent partners. These are crimes; these are heinous crimes. Let us not forget what it is: it is a heinous crime. The death of someone in those circumstances is

Mr Ondarchie It is murder.

Ms CROZIER Well, it is, Mr Ondarchie. It is murder. Far too often it is just not called out for what it is. These are very serious crimes, and the perpetrators need to be held to account. The community also needs to understand that they should be treated as such as committing what are heinous crimes.

I have heard too many stories from victims who have told me about their horrendous circumstances and of near-death experiences, whether that be through sheer physical abuse broken bones or strangulation or where they have had to escape. That is one of the reasons I, together with Matthew Guy, announced our Right to Ask, Right to Know disclosure scheme, because of the bravery of Samantha Handley, who I have also spoken about in this chamber, and her experiences at the hands of a very abusive partner and how she escaped that abusive partner through sheer determination. Terrifying circumstances, the stories of what she experienced and how she felt very guilty in a way that she put her children at risk by not knowing just how abusive her partner had been in the past and about his criminal past.

That was why it was a very significant announcement. It is working in the UK. It is working in New Zealand. It is operating in New South Wales and South Australia, and I still do not understand why the government will not come on board and support such a practical, sensible measure that will keep women safe and save their lives. Just saying 'It was not a recommendation of the royal commission' does not mean it should not be considered. The royal commission did a lot of good work, but it was not a panacea to solve all of these issues. It has not stopped all of the women dying. We have got far too many women still dying at the hands of these criminals. Let us just call them out for what they are: they are criminals. It absolutely needs to be talked about in those terms. Again I implore the government to change their attitude to this and to support our policy that will save women's lives.

I also know that the many agencies that are doing tremendous work in this area are looking to the government's investment. They have been very buoyed by the government's investment and the words that they have spoken in relation to their support. But again their frustrations are boiling over because of how it is happening and the demands that are unmet. I have spoken to many of those agencies, and they have indicated to me that they need more resources.

Safe Steps had over 105 000 calls, I think, last year a 10 per cent increase or thereabout from the previous year. Those resources, they are saying, are coming online, but there is a lot of work to be done here. It is not just this government who has the moral authority on family violence. This issue is being looked at by governments at all levels and has been for some time for many years. In fact it started in this state back in the early 2000s and has worked through subsequent Labor governments and certainly through the former Baillieu-Napthine governments. I will place on record again the work of Mary Wooldridge in this house and Robert Clark in the Assembly who did significant work in this area at the time it was the largest investment the state had seen in some of these issues.

I want to just read this. It states:

Family violence and sexual assault impact negatively on the physical and mental health of women and children. Women living with violence can become isolated, unable to reach out for and receive the support that they need Children are also deeply affected. When violence is directed at them or when they are otherwise exposed to it, children may be unable to participate fully in education, sports or social events.

 

 

The impacts on children cannot be underestimated in this, and I think we all agree with that. They witness it, they see it and they can be firsthand victims of the violence that I spoke of. Samantha Handley's children experienced that violence at the hands of the perpetrator the bruising that those tiny children had and the excuses that the perpetrator made, 'Oh, no. It was just a bit of rough and tumble they fell over'. No, it was not. It was far too rough handling. That can escalate, and as we know, there have been tragic circumstances of children dying at the hands of family members and loved ones. This same document goes on to say:

Our vision is for women and children to live free from violence in Victoria.

Given the extent and complex nature of violence against women and children, our long-term vision is underpinned not just by actions over the next three years, but by directions for the future. Our plan is an important foundation in a longer journey to realise our vision.

We want a future where men do not commit violence against women and children.

We want a future where women do not experience any form of violence by a partner, husband, father or family member and where children do not witness or personally experience violence.

We want women and children in Victoria to be able to realise their potential and participate fully in all aspects of their lives.

To achieve this, women and children must feel and be safe within their relationships, families and communities.

That was said in 2012, and that remains the case. You might well be hearing what the government is putting out in their media releases. It is the same sort of words and rhetoric. This has been done. That is my point. You do not, government, have the high moral ground or a moral authority in this, because many governments in the past have undertaken very good work.

This document I am referring to, Victoria's Action Plan to Address Violence Against Women & Children: Everyone Has a Responsibility to Act, was a very sound foundation for a lot of the issues that we are still discussing and debating today about prevention, about engagement, about promotion and campaigns and about all of those issues that the government is now rolling out. We had a plan here, a very significant plan. Yes, we have had a royal commission that has made recommendations, and yes, the government has said that they will implement all the recommendations. But as I have just indicated, recommendation 188 is not exactly what this bill sets out it is to be.

This plan from 2012, which is very comprehensive, talks about a whole range of things in relation to assisting organisations to promote gender equity and stop violence, engaging organisations and communities in that task. It talks about toolkits, about prevention, about campaigns and about regional action plans, because this violence does not just stop at the metropolitan borders it is far too prevalent in country areas as well. We had some excellent programs. Mr O'Donohue has just walked into the chamber. The preventative community plans he undertook as Minister for Police gave local communities a real ability to tackle this at a local level. A very high level approach could be lost in some of these regional areas.

I will come back in a minute to what the bill lays out and what it seeks to address. I am sure the government will say, 'That is what this bill will do. It will go into local areas and undertake what you have just said'. My point is that there were these services; they were on the ground and they were happening. But that was six years ago and we are still talking about the same things. I think we have got to show a little bit of understanding about the initiatives that were undertaken and about what had been done, and perhaps what has been lost in the process with this government's focus.

Sadly, in four years the numbers of family violence incidents and the numbers of women harmed have not gone down. They have not decreased; they have gone up. One woman a week across the country, sadly, loses their life. It is nobody's joy to say that. None of us in this chamber think that is acceptable, I am sure. All of us want those numbers to decrease. All of us want action taken and for perpetrators to be held to account, and sadly that is what some of the issues are about.

Here in Victoria, as I mentioned, we have many, many women who are victims of family violence. We have many people in same-sex relationships who are victims of family violence. We still do not know the numbers. Yes, we had a royal commission, but collecting that data I think is very important. That is what we need to understand. We need to look at that. It will be over the long-term that we understand what is going on, to give people the ability to come forward and talk about their abuse. It happens, but it goes unreported.

Men are also victims of family violence, because their female partner may have a mental illness or they might be drug affected. Those people are also under-represented; they are not spoken about. We know there are causal factors mental health as I have just mentioned and drug and alcohol abuse; I do not think you can deny that. There are cost-of-living pressures the financial pressures that people find themselves under are leading to significant abuse because people feel under pressure.

I heard yet another story: 'We were having our first baby, and I went out and got a second job. I couldn't cope, and I took drugs to try and cope with the two jobs and to get the household in order'. Something changes, and that is when they start taking drugs. Something seriously changes and violence starts slowly and then becomes worse and worse. We hear very chilling stories about the escalation of violence. It is just not acceptable. We have been saying for years that violence is not acceptable in any form behind closed doors, in our communities or on our streets. It is not acceptable in any form.

That message has to get out. The message to these perpetrators needs to get out. The judiciary needs to show these perpetrators that it is completely unacceptable. The strongest thing these people can be told is, 'That is unacceptable'. How can somebody put a blowtorch to a woman's hand and burn off her finger in a most violent crime? It is control behaviour, and having committed that heinous crime, he got six months. This is what we are talking about. That is the wrong message to send to people. He should have had the book thrown at him, big-time. That is just appallingly weak sentencing and an appalling message to send to perpetrators: 'Don't worry about it. You can maim someone for life'. He burnt her finger off, and there is not only the pain and the torment she suffered but the mental anguish that she will carry for the rest of her life. And there is a reminder when she looks at her hand because half her finger is not there.

Mr Finn It tells us a lot about the attitude of the legal community.

Ms CROZIER Indeed, Mr Finn, and people have had enough of that too. They want these perpetrators to be held to account, and that is why I am very pleased that a Guy government will send that message to the judiciary, because by jingo this government has not. It has done nothing. It has been weak.

You cannot ignore the drivers of this dreadful, dreadful violence. The government will look at all this through a gender lens and say it is gendered violence; everything is gendered violence. There is no denying that the vast majority of people who are committing these horrendous crimes are men, but there are other issues and drivers for why men are doing it, and I think we have not had that debate enough. We need to have that debate more and more. Why are these horrendous crimes happening all the time? Because the statistics are telling us they are.

If you look at Domestic Violence Victoria statistics, they show that. We all know there are massive economic impacts to this: the loss of the ability to work and the loss of income, with somebody having to spend days in court trying to argue their case against a perpetrator who got off lightly and is back on the circuit. I think Victorians need to say, 'Yes, we want a stronger judiciary, to send a message to these people'.

I want to go back to the bill and the various aspects I want to raise. I will say unequivocally that everything is seen through a gender lens. The government is introducing in the bill a new definition of violence against women, but in my opening remarks I spoke about the Family Violence Protection Act, which applies to anyone. It is not just about violence against women; it is about violence against the person. Surely to goodness all those things physical or sexual abuse, emotional or psychological abuse, economic abuse, threatening or coercive behaviour are in the Family Violence Protection Act. That should apply to anybody, not just to women.

The government is legislating on violence against women. It is introducing a new definition, but it is already covered in the Family Violence Protection Act. This bill introduces into law a new concept of gender-based violence. What is next? Are we going to introduce male-gendered violence or gender fluidity-based violence? I do not know, but the government has started it. It is already covered in the Family Violence Protection Act, so it is completely unnecessary. But as I said, this government is hell-bent on doing this. I think the approach needs to be one where no violence against any person, especially women, is tolerated.

I agree with everyone about respect. Where is the respect? Where is the respect for the person, for women, or for anyone for that matter? Because if we do not have basic respect and regard for one another, then we start to see what is happening in our community. We are seeing that in all sorts of forms, not just in family violence but on our roads with road rage. There is no respect for anyone. There is no respect for authority. People are thumbing their noses at the police force. Certainly there is an inability among people to show decency and respect towards one another. I think it needs to be going back to the basics. I am talking about the basics the basics in our homes, in our schools and generally in our community where we need to have that respect.

As I said, there are far too many children who are affected by family violence. If you look at the stats, if you look at what we have got here in child protection, invariably many of these children in child protection many of them, not all of them are victims or have been living in abusive relationships, yet we have got 110 000 notifications to child protection. We have got thousands of children who do not even have caseworkers. What hope is there for those children if they are victims of family violence and they do not have caseworkers or the support they need so they do not get on that treadmill and go further into the abusive relationship? Surely that should be fundamental. That should be the priority. Get that right, get those things right. We really do need to have a look at what is going on, and child protection is a huge concern. How many of those children that do not have caseworkers have witnessed family violence? How many? Probably most of them.

 

 

Ms Mikakos How come you didn't care about this issue when you were in government?

Ms CROZIER Ms Mikakos

Ms Mikakos interjected.

Ms CROZIER I will just take up the interjection. The figures are there. Ms Mikakos is talking about her responsibilities. We know she has failed in youth justice, and she is failing in child protection. Over 2000

Honourable members interjecting.

The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Morris) Order!

Ms CROZIER Thank you, Acting President. As I said, there are far too many children in this state without caseworkers, and many of those probably have witnessed family violence, but the minister might try to deflect her failures. She has been in her seat for four years. She has failed in many instances.

Honourable members interjecting.

The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Morris) Order! Thank you, members. Mr Ondarchie and Ms Mikakos.

Ms CROZIER Thank you, Acting President. I know the minister, with her interjections, is very sensitive about these issues, but the facts are there.

Ms Mikakos No, I am just giving you the facts.

Ms CROZIER Well, the facts are there. How many children are out there without caseworkers, Minister?

Ms Mikakos interjected.

Ms CROZIER I do not care about the allocation; I want the numbers. To say that we did not care that is your attitude. The problem with you is your attitude is just so, so arrogant. Your arrogance is palpable. I will go back to the point of this bill

Ms Mikakos The family violence sector thought your government was appalling.

The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Gepp) Order! Can I suggest, Ms Crozier, that you make your remarks through the Chair? And could Ms Crozier be heard in silence, please?

Ms CROZIER Thank you, Acting President. I am very happy to continue with this. As I said, I think there is a proud legacy in what the former government did do. I read out that document, a very comprehensive document, that was about making inroads. It was working under previous governments. Unfortunately, due to this government's approach we have probably lost many years of that good work. In saying that, those agencies that are out there are still doing exceptionally good work, as are all those people that are working on the front lines. It is very difficult. It is very complex work, it is very challenging work. But again I say if you just look at this bill and what it is doing, it is introducing a new gender-based violence, and I question what is next in relation to that.

The bill also allows regulations to be made at a later point ascribing other functions to the agency. If you look at the various elements of this agency and how it is set up, if you look at the bill, on the surface it sounds okay. But as I said, we have got Family Safety Victoria that is not enshrined in legislation. We have also already got a number of preventative agencies like Our Watch and Australia's National Research Organisation for Women's Safety. Our Watch was set up by the former government under then Minister Wooldridge. It had wide support across the sector, and I think it still does. I am sure that Ms Mikakos was quite right in relation to her earlier comments about what the sector thought, but I would have thought that Our Watch was an initiative that was widely embraced. It does take on this function of preventative measures, so I will be wondering about how that will perhaps actually operate into the future if this body is overseeing all of the preventative areas.

In terms of that, as we have got a number of these bodies already in existence, what role will the department actually play? We have got thousands of people in that department. They are looking at these areas, they are working on the ground, they are talking to stakeholders and agencies and they are also providing advice on policy. So what role do they have? It is really unclear how that will play out with this agency. The bill, under 'Functions and powers of the Agency', says it will provide advice to the minister on the funding of programs and the programs carried out in accordance with this act. It then goes on to stipulate how it will make grants on approval, but it also talks about the ministerial guidelines and a business plan. The minister from time to time may issue guidelines and then the secretary from time to time may issue guidelines. It seems to me that the government has put this bill together in a rush 'Quick, we've got to get these recommendations rolling out because we promised we'd do that'.

Mr Finn 'There's an election coming. We have to show the people we've done something'.

Ms CROZIER There is an election coming. That is right. They said that this was their signature policy, which it was. They all acknowledge that. They had a mandate to do it.

Mr Finn When did they say that?

Ms CROZIER Well, they did it at their conference. I think they said they would have a royal commission. Nevertheless, Tim Cartwright, who is the implementation monitor, actually made a very good point to the government and I am paraphrasing here: 'Take a deep breath. You don't have to get all these out, because it is complex and detailed work that will cost billions and billions of dollars. You need to get it right because it's taxpayers money here that you are spending in your rush to get these recommendations out. You need to get the priorities right of what is going to make a real difference on the ground in protecting those women and children that we've spoken about, who significantly are the victims, more often than not, of family violence'. So I ask how this was put together, because there seems to be a lot of duplication.

I have spoken to the crossbench, the Greens and the government about my concerns that there is no provision in the bill for financial reporting except on the request of the minister. Now, most agencies will table a financial report and provide that transparency. The bill states:

The Board may, on the request of the Minister, prepare a report on the financial performance of the Agency during the financial year ending on the preceding 30 June.

We do not know how big this agency actually is going to be, how many subcommittees there are going to be or how much money is going to be expended.

Mr Finn How many mates will be employed.

Ms CROZIER Well, they have already started that, as I said. They have got their mates already rolling in. But why was that left out of this very important bill? Why was that not an obvious consideration? I will be moving an amendment to this, and I am pleased that I have the support of the crossbench, the Greens and the government for my amendment. But when I did put this to the government, the government said, 'Well, we'll support your amendment if you speak to that in the committee stage only, to expedite the passage of this bill'. I absolutely rejected that, coming from the government in such a way. I said

Ms Mikakos Because it is not necessary. The Financial Management Act 1994 already does that. It actually is unnecessary, but we are happy to support it.

Ms CROZIER Well, it is not very clear and it needs to be clear. You might say that about the Financial Management Act. I have had a look at the Financial Management Act and, yes, it gives advice on how to do the reporting. But this clause says the board 'may'; it does not say 'must'. Other agencies, especially ones like this one, which is going to be a significant agency, need to be transparent to the Victorian people. Again I say that this was an issue that came to me from the government. They said, 'Well, yes if you expedite the passage of the bill', which was pretty extraordinary, I thought. I said, 'No. I'll have questions in committee and I will be going through those, and I'm looking forward to the minister answering those questions in due course but also supporting that amendment'.

 

 

As I have stated, Family Safety Victoria was established as an independent administrative office within the Department of Health and Human Services to drive those key elements of the government's family violence strategy. There is documentation various reports, various pieces of communication on this that has been put out over the last few months. It is really clear that Family Safety Victoria has the responsibility for policy coordination and prevention strategies. It is part of their mandate. Again we have partly got a duplication with this in terms of prevention strategies, and it is different because it is not enshrined in legislation as Respect Victoria is. There are those aspects that I want to question. I will not go on too much longer in relation to what this bill does because I have got more opportunity in the committee stage. What I would say is that the government has, I think, rushed to put this bill together. There are some obvious duplications in it. I will be interested to see the minister's responses to that.

As I said at the outset, it is important that we continue to work on the previous government's work in relation to addressing the issues around family violence. Too many women are losing their lives, too many children are being subjected to really horrific violence, sometimes as secondary victims witnessing it but also sometimes as primary victims getting that physical violence, and sadly far too many children are also subjected to sexual abuse. I think that is very, very alarming, and I think we as a community need to be doing much more partly by holding those perpetrators of these heinous crimes to account. I stated clearly in my opening remarks how I think this government has failed in taking this message to those perpetrators through the soft sentencing regimes that are out there, and there needs to be much more done in that area. I am very pleased that Matthew Guy, together with me and others, such as John Pesutto in the Assembly and Edward O'Donohue, have been leading the charge in that way.

This is not particularly related to this, but many of the ideas and bills that have come into this place the no body, no parole legislation that was spoken about in the previous legislation debated in the house this afternoon is one such example have come in because the previous government took that lead. There are many more examples. It just demonstrates how inept the government has been on many of these issues.

These crimes that are committed behind closed doors are just as heinous as other crimes, and they need to be called out for what they are: heinous crimes. Those perpetrators, as I have stated, need to be held to account. With those closing remarks, I am looking forward to the committee stage and also to the government supporting, along with others, the amendment that I have put forward to ensure that we have total transparency on this agency and we have financial reporting to the Parliament on an annual basis so that all Victorian can actually see what will occur.

 

 


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