JUSTICE LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (FAMILY VIOLENCE AND OTHER MATTERS) BILL 2012
I am pleased to rise to make a contribution to the second-reading debate on the Justice Legislation Amendment (Family Violence and Other Matters) Bill 2012. We have heard some outstanding contributions today on this bill from both sides of the house. There has been an enormous amount of heartfelt compassion, anger in the community over the ongoing issue of violence against women, particularly in the family home, and a real commitment from both sides to addressing this issue in a meaningful way.
As we know, it is only in the last few years — perhaps since the mid-2000s — that the community has begun to look at this issue in a different way, beyond the realms of domestic violence, as it was so often called, and really attempt to grasp the widespread and heinous impact of violence on women and children within what should be the greatest sanctuary for any individual, their home. It is an ongoing blight on our society that women and children are more likely to be under threat within their own homes than anywhere else. The fact that there is an increasing number of family violence incidents is also deeply disturbing to every member of this house.
In 2005 major reforms were initiated regarding family violence, and they continued throughout the Bracks and Brumby era. The Family Violence Protection Act 2008, which the bill before us today amends, was introduced in 2008, and the bill before us is another step along the road towards taking this issue seriously.
When we consider how far we have come, while acknowledging how far we have to go, let us pause to pay tribute to those people who have suffered horrifically due to family violence, those who have had the courage to stand up, those who have lost their lives and those around them — their family members and those who work with them — who have had the courage to speak up about the devastation that it causes, often behind closed doors.
In a members statement I spoke about a community safety forum I held along with the federal member for Wills, Kelvin Thomson, in Brunswick last week arising out of the horror of Jill Meagher’s death in the midst of our community. We brought together a range of people, including senior police, who were very frank and very good with their time, and representatives from the White Ribbon Foundation, Women’s Information, Support and Housing in the North, the local traders association and the council.
It was clear in that forum, which over 170 people attended, that the issue of family violence and its impact on women and children are firmly in the public consciousness.
That was nowhere clearer than in the contribution made by the police, who quite rightly said that in the past their organisation had not dealt with this issue in the best way they could and that it was one of their key priorities — and one of the key priorities of the current Chief Commissioner of Police — that the attitude and response of police to family violence be first class. It was heartening to hear that acknowledgement and the process through which the police force is going. The setting up of dedicated family violence units to tackle this issue is a welcome initiative and shows the seriousness with which the police are taking the matter.
I think the statistics that were given on that night showed that almost 1 in 2 incident reports or calls for police assistance in the north relate to some form of family violence.
It is good that people are seeking the assistance of police, because nothing will change unless these incidents are reported, but it is of deep concern that so many women and children in our community are being subjected to violence to the point of requiring the police to be called.
As I said, this bill is another important step in a journey towards addressing this problem in a serious and systematic fashion. The main provisions of the bill relating to family violence create new indictable offences for serious and persistent breaches of intervention orders, and this is very important. Changes that were made to allow women to get interim orders without necessarily having to go through the rigmarole of the court process have been important, but serious and persistent breaches of intervention orders should absolutely be indictable offences, because we know it is often the repetitive nature of family violence and the escalation of violent conduct that lead to the most serious harm occurring.
Perpetrators of family violence need be under no illusion that should they disregard serious intervention orders made by a court, they will face the full force of the law, as they should.
Other provisions relating to family violence are around counselling orders. The bill makes permanent the power to order respondents to attend counselling. Again this is an important role for the courts to play in dealing with these really difficult issues.
It is important that we put on the record, as have others in this place, that tackling the issue of family violence, addressing it and dealing with individual circumstances is a complicated matter. It is hard. It is difficult for the police, it is difficult for service providers, it is difficult for relatives and friends and most importantly it is profoundly difficult for those who are the victims in those circumstances. A holistic approach is needed.
It should be a law enforcement approach and a counselling approach. There is a need for appropriate funding for refuges and other services for women and children who are victims of family violence. There has to be a full sweep across these issues to ensure that women and children are given the protection they need and that they are given support if they need to start a new life free from violence. The perpetrators of violence need to be held to account and should be given the opportunity to acknowledge their wrongdoing and, hopefully, address their conduct in the future. Those are the extremely important provisions of this bill, and they are welcomed.
I note, and others have noted, that it is important when we are looking at a holistic approach to this issue to call on the government to look again at its funding of the systemic review of family violence deaths by the Coroners Court. That is clearly an important aspect of trying to understand the causes for and the best manner in which these issues could be dealt with.
I put on the record on behalf of my community a request that that funding be reinstated.
The bill makes a range of other changes regarding police pursuits. It creates a new indictable offence under the Crimes Act 1958 for dangerous or negligent driving when a person knows or reasonably ought to know that a police member has ordered him or her to stop and is in pursuit. Clearly that is important when there is a police pursuit and alleged offenders continue to drive in a negligent manner because the entire community is placed at serious risk. We have seen some of the horrific outcomes of those pursuits for innocent bystanders in particular, who are often the victims of such reckless conduct. I absolutely support the creation of an indictable offence in those circumstances.
The bill makes a range of other amendments. However, as we have said, the core purpose of this piece of legislation is to strengthen the community’s response to what is a heinous blight on the safety and security of some of the most vulnerable in the community, particularly women and children who are subjected to violence in their own homes. Labor supports this bill, and I commend it to the house.