FAMILY VIOLENCE PROTECTION AMENDMENT BILL 2014

Ms GARRETT (Brunswick) — I am pleased to rise on behalf of my community to make a contribution to the debate on the Family Violence Protection Amendment Bill 2014. As we have heard from previous speakers and from a lot of the debate and discussion going on in our community, family violence is a major and critical endemic problem in our state. We have talked about the facts. The member for Eltham spoke eloquently and with great passion about his friend, and we all know others who have been victims of family violence. Some 65 000 incidents were reported in Victoria during 2013-14. Those 65 000 incidents involve stories of frightened primarily women and children where our fellow Victorians were not safe in the one place they were supposed to be the safest — that is, in their family home.

We can trace the history of the attitude of members of the community towards this issue. For a long time people felt that domestic violence was something that happened behind closed doors and that it was nobody else’s business and you were not to get involved.

A corresponding effect of that was that often victims of family violence, particularly women, felt a deep shame about what was happening in their lives and enormous pressure, as they still do, to hold the family unit together. There is the economic impact of trying to leave, let alone the fear and apprehensiveness of further violence.

The fact that partner violence is the leading contributor to preventable death, illness and disability in Victorian women aged 15 to 44 years is a stark and distressing statistic that we in this house, those in our courts and law enforcement agencies, those working in the community sector and every single Victorian need to have imprinted on their brain. It is everybody’s responsibility to call out family violence to ensure that perpetrators of family violence get justice and, most importantly, to ensure that women and children are safe and can live free of fear of and harm from those who are supposed to be the closest to them.

 

That is why one of the keynote announcements by the Leader of the Opposition about what a future Labor government intends to do was that it would establish a royal commission into family violence. This problem is out of control in our community. It is a complicated issue involving the intersection of law enforcement, of the court system and of service provision and of options available to women and children to leave the family home.

As previous speakers have pointed out, the generational impact of violence is deep and can be lasting. There can be a continuation of the violent behaviours witnessed by children in the family home; attendant issues of depression, mental illness or drug and alcohol issues arising from the traumatic experiences of children and women; and, in a worst case scenario — and this is happening once a week in this country — the murder of a woman by a former partner, to say nothing of the horrors of innocent children being murdered by their fathers.

We have seen some profoundly horrific examples of that around the country this year. It is critical, therefore, in Labor’s view that we establish a royal commission into family violence that will look at this issue in a holistic, detailed and forward-thinking way that will hear from all of the key stakeholders and importantly from women and children who are impacted upon about how we as a community can work better to address this issue to help the victims and ultimately to significantly reduce the incidence of violence in the home. We believe this will focus an appropriate bright spotlight on this issue so that it is recognised as a community problem that requires a community response. We hope that that sort of leadership will reverse the skyrocketing trend of people being attacked and hurt in their own homes.

This bill amends the Family Violence Protection Act 2008.

 

As we know, that bill was introduced by the previous government and is considered to be ground-breaking legislation for a range of reasons, including the fact that it provided a comprehensive definition of family violence, extended that definition to family members, broadened the use of holding power provisions, introduced an enhanced system of family violence intervention orders, changed the way evidence was given in court, gave police greater powers and provided greater protection for children.

As we know, that act also introduced the regime of protection to apply outside court hours. There were some concerns around that at the time and some issues around police being able to issue safety notices. I think it is widely recognised that Victoria Police has really transformed the manner in which it deals with family violence incidents and also the priority it gives those incidents in terms of resources and focus. It is to be commended for that work.

This bill, which ensures that safety notices can be issued out of court hours, is to be supported. We know that police working closely with service providers and with the courts can make the difference between women and children escaping family violence being kept safe while at the same time dealing with the perpetrators of family violence to try to stop that cycle. If that sort of cooperation is not happening and the system is faltering or breaking down, we know that the harm to women and children that can ensue has no limits in certain cases.

The bill also deals with interim order amendments regarding finalisation orders to be attached to interim orders. A lot has been said about that by previous speakers. I again highlight that there was a lack of consultation by the government with the key stakeholders in tackling the issue of family violence, including the Federation of Community Legal Centres, the Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria, Women’s Legal Services Victoria, Domestic Violence Victoria as well as many other agencies and interested parties. The failure of the government to properly consult with these groups in the initial drafting of this bill has caused significant difficulty, so while we see these amendments as offering some enhancements and we will not impose them, we make that point and again highlight Labor’s proposed family violence royal commission. This is designed to make sure we are examining this issue from every angle and providing comprehensive, lasting and working solutions that will keep women and children in this state safe.

Finally, we note that the bill contains provisions relating to the publication of family violence criminal proceedings.

The opposition does not oppose that measure. We welcome the focus and debate on family violence. We welcome positive changes to strengthen protections for women and children in this state, and we commit in the 58th Parliament to continue this work in a serious way to make sure that this heinous issue is dealt with by the lawmakers, the courts and the community, and that we see the rising incidence of family violence reversed.

Hansard, 15 October 2014