Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) 2016

[Download PDF] I support the Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Amendment (Review) Bill 2016. I support this bill in essence, but not those amendments proposed to section 101J of the Coroner's Act relating to the Domestic Violence Death Review Team [DVDRT]. I understand that this bill is based upon statutory reviews. It contains a suite of proposed changes that are in the main welcome. I thank all those who work at the coalface in providing services around domestic violence matters: the police; the paramedics; the refuges and women's health services; the extraordinary case workers, who hear the most awful stories; community and women's legal centres; Aboriginal family violence prevention legal services; domestic violence court assistance schemes; family support services; neighbourhood centres and many others. As has been stated already, domestic and family violence is an all too common crime. Its prevalence is high.

However, as few as 14 per cent of victims actually report incidents to police. Official statistics show that nearly two million Australians over the age of 15 years have experienced violence at the hands of a current or previous partner. A 2015 NSW Domestic Violence Death Review Team review reported that in domestic violence homicides in New South Wales between 2000 and 2010 some 76 per cent of victims killed were women. This is inherently a gender crime. Current concerns about the response to domestic violence include: the number of breaches of apprehended domestic violence orders [ADVOs]; the effectiveness of efforts to reduce those breaches; the alleged lenient treatment of offenders at sentencing; changes to New South Wales Government funding for homelessness services, which resulted in specialist domestic violence refuges losing funding; the implementation of domestic violence courts in New South Wales; and the development, operation and effectiveness of perpetrator behaviour programs.

Our legislative response must address the fact that a common purpose of "protecting victims and penalising offenders" is not working as well as it ought to. We know that our Crimes Act has had a number of amendments to strengthen the apprehended violence order regime. We know that adding conditions and penalties for breaches of ADVOs aims to improve the system. We know that the 2012 Legislative Council inquiry and the NSW Auditor General reached a similar conclusion—that is, the domestic violence system works in silos; it is patchy and lacks leadership; and outcomes for victims are constrained by system requirements.

So I have applauded, as do many members in this place, any efforts made since to articulate and implement improvements. This suite of proposed changes goes some way toward that. However, it is imperative in this place when such critical legislation is being debated and discussed that we speak for those who work at the coalface; and, importantly, speak for those who cannot. I take a moment to pay tribute to Lynette, whose story was highlighted by Antoinette Braybrook just yesterday in her moving opinion piece on the ABC website The Drum entitled "Aboriginal Women's lives really do matter".

She says:

It shouldn't require Four Corners to expose the failure of our justice system in dealing with domestic violence towards Aboriginal women. There needs to be urgent investment to tackle this epidemic.

Four Corners recounted—in horrifying detail—the brutal killing of an Aboriginal woman, the failure of our justice system to respond, and the failure of our community to care.

Lynette was battered, bruised and ultimately destroyed by men's violence. It was ended by the most obscene disregard for her humanity. The system did not protect her and justice has not been done.

Violence against Aboriginal women and their children is at epidemic levels. If you are an Aboriginal woman you are 34 times more likely to be hospitalised and 10 times more likely to be killed by someone who purports to love you.

She continues:

To address this national crisis we need strong national leadership and huge political will. So far political rhetoric has not been matched with funding commitments needed. And we need to set targets to reduce violence against our women.

To Lynette's family, friends and community, I say, "She mattered". I will now refer to some of the comments and concerns raised by the Women's Legal Service of NSW around some clarification they seek on this bill regarding section 4 and the meaning of a "personal violence offence". They say:

We note the inclusion of S43A of the Crimes Act 1900: Failure of persons with parental responsibility to care for the child and s44 of theCrimes Act 1900: Failure of persons to provide the necessities of life. We seek clarification that these provisions will not be used as a tool to hold the adult victim of violence accountable for the perpetrator's violence and/or failure to provide and that consideration will be given to circumstances of poverty. Further, consideration should also be given to the impact of domestic violence on the parenting of the adult victim.

The Women's Legal Service also says:

We are concerned by the proposed amendment of section 16(2)(c)(i) to omit "at any time" and replace it with "on more than one occasion". The change will increase the threshold such that a court will need to be satisfied that a person has experienced domestic violence on more than one occasion prior to the granting of an ADVO.

Waiting until a second time may be too late, and we need to address that. In regard to section 35 (2) (c1) the Women's Legal Service says:

We welcome inclusion of s35(2)(c1) "prohibiting or restricting the defendant from locating or attempting to locate the protected person". We recommend for clarity that this be expanded to refer specifically to third parties and surveillance. Our suggested wording is: "prohibiting or restricting the defendant from locating, attempting to locate, asking someone else to locate, following or keeping the protected person under surveillance".

The Women's Legal Service of NSW are also seeking to have an addition policy issue addressed around section 41A and the protection of vulnerable witnesses. The Women's Legal Service says:

We strongly urge NSW to take this opportunity to provide vulnerable witness protection from direct cross-examination, beyond the protection for a child provided for in proposed section 41A. We recommend protection from direct cross-examination extend to "any person against whom the respondent is alleged to have used family violence".

There are many concerns in this document that the Women's Legal Service has presented to a number of members. I now refer to the amendment of the Coroner's Act 2009 where the Domestic Violence Death Review Team is discussed. Recommendation 27 in the NSW Women's Alliance response to the blueprint around domestic and family violence says that the NSW Death Review Team should meet and publicly report at a minimum every six months. There are many people in our community who do not support that the Death Review Team prepare a report for Parliament only once every two years. It has to be at a minimum of one year.

As specified in the Domestic and Family Violence Briefing Paper No. 5 2015, which was prepared by our fabulous New South Wales Parliamentary Research Service, we must look at developments in other States, particularly the recommendations that came out of the Special Taskforce on Domestic and Family Violence in Queensland, headed by the former Governor-General Quentin Bryce, titled "Not now, Not ever" and the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence. Let us also be reminded of the April 2015 Council of Australian Governments agreement to urgently reduce domestic and family violence, which signals a more concerted national approach to the form of violence that disproportionately impacts women and their children. [Extension of time]

Good intentions; legal, administrative reform to legislation; and community discussion and listening to stories about domestic violence all play a role in change. However, legislative change must be backed up with adequate funding for vital resources to save lives, not just educational programs for perpetrators, but funding for domestic violence liaison officers in every police station, legal and referral services and, most importantly, domestic violence specialist women's refuges. I will conclude with a shout out to Destroy the Joint, Counting Dead Women. I honour their effort in the hope that our communities maintain their rage and focus our efforts on preventing this crime. As the member for Blue Mountains, and as a proud member of the New South Wales Parliament but more importantly as a child survivor of domestic violence horror, I am honoured to stand here and speak on this bill. I commend this bill to the House.

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