BILL: Domestic Violence

Today Mark spoke about the domestic violence crisis we are facing in Australia. He called for more resources for the wide range of services and programs that help keep women safe, in addition to the introduction of further measures that help reduce the scourge of domestic violence.


Statutes Amendment (Domestic Violence) Bill 2018

All of us should have the right to live our lives free from violence and free from the threat or fear of violence. Most of us take that for granted but, sadly, that is not the reality for many people in our community, and it is particularly not the reality for many women in our community. All of us have heard terrible stories in relation to domestic violence. We have heard of the situations that women have found themselves in, we have heard about violence and we have heard about manipulation and emotional abuse. It is something that is now out of the shadows, and it is in the public consciousness.

I think that the awarding of the Australian of the Year to someone like Rosie Batty has helped bring it to the forefront of public thinking. Also, thinking about domestic violence, I note that our kids at school these days have a far more enlightened education than their grandparents did. They are taught self-respect, they are encouraged to be resilient and, most importantly, they are taught respect for others. That is not to say those values were non-existent in their grandparents' time, but I think the emphasis now is far more on children learning what it means to be in a society and what it means to be a citizen.

Like many of us, over the years I have attended many events, commemorations, seminars, demonstrations, church services, public meetings and workshops on the scourge of domestic violence. However, in spite of all that talk and in spite of all the progress that we know we are making, the statistics around domestic violence and the death of women at the hands of intimate partners remain truly shocking. It is now generally known that on average one woman per week is killed in Australia at the hands of a current or former domestic partner.

A number of people have commented that, if this was the death toll from terrorism in Australia, then we would have seen a more urgent response. If one person per week was bashed, shot, knifed or run down by a terrorist then all of the power and the resources of the state would have been applied to address the situation and it would have been regarded as a national crisis. I think that is a point well made. Most domestic violence occurs behind closed doors, so whilst the violence, deaths and the injury are not publicly visible, we do know that the toll is far greater. Domestic violence is a national crisis and our collective response has been lacking.

However, as appalling as the statistics around domestic violence deaths might be, we know it is only the tip of the iceberg. Surveys from a range of credible sources reveal that around one in three women have experienced at least one incident of violence from a current or former partner since the age of 15. Between 2014 and 2015, 2,800 women were hospitalised after being assaulted by a spouse or partner. Between 2014 and 2016, a quarter of a million domestic violence incidents were reported and recorded. However, the Bureau of Statistics data reveals that 80 per cent of women and, even more, 95 per cent of men who had experienced violence from a current partner never contacted the police. When you put those two things together, the real statistics for domestic violence victims in Australia are in the millions. The most common reasons cited for not reporting incidents to the police are fear of revenge or further violence from the current partner.

There are many more statistics, but the bottom line is that the response must include the whole community and that means parliament as well. Parliament is in a particular position of authority in being able to pass laws that help keep people safe and that appropriately punish those who breach community standards. This bill seeks to clarify the type of behaviour that is unacceptable and it imposes appropriate punishment for offenders. The bill specifically focuses on acts of choking and strangulation because these are some of the most common assaults, particularly against women, and also because they are a clear precursor to further violence, including acts that result in death.

Other aspects of the bill cover the admissibility of evidence in prosecutions and also expanding the range of relationships that are covered by domestic violence offences. Importantly, not only are a wider range of family relationships covered, such as siblings and grandparents, but also recognition is given to particular Aboriginal kinship relationships. We know that domestic violence knows no bounds in relation to race, class or economic circumstances; however, there are particular challenges around Indigenous communities, which is why I want to give a special shout-out to a couple of organisations that work in that space.

The first organisation is Kornar Winmil Yunti, known as KWY, but also known as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Family Services. KWY assists Aboriginal families with child protection and domestic violence concerns. As they say on their mission statement, 'The safety of women and children is at the heart of everything we do.' Next week, KWY is hosting the 2018 National Child Protection Summit in Adelaide and, next Thursday, I will be pleased to attend the KWY awards night and gala dinner. The aim of that event is to highlight the accomplishments of hardworking women and men in the sectors of domestic and family violence, child protection and homelessness.

The acronym that they use for this event is an awkward one, but bear with me. It is FOCUS, and that stands for 'Flame of Change Unifying Support'. Whilst it might sound a bit unwieldy, it is important, because the flame is regarded as an integral symbol for the KWY organisation. It symbolises the candlelight vigils that support victims, survivors and families of domestic and Aboriginal family violence. Many of us have been to those vigils.

The 'C' in the acronym stands for 'Change', and change is particularly required in the attitudes of men regarding gendered violence. 'Unifying Support', the 'U' and the 'S' in the acronym, recognises all the organisations that are working towards the same goal, namely to ensure the safety of women and children in this country. I am pleased to note that this year's special guest at the FOCUS awards is 2015 Australian of the Year, domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty.

The second organisation I want to acknowledge is White Ribbon Australia. Last Sunday, 25 November, was the United Nations recognised International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. In Australia, it is more commonly known as White Ribbon Day, and it is commemorated on or around this time every year. In Adelaide, there was a march on Saturday and a huge White Ribbon breakfast on Friday morning, attended by the Governor, the police commissioner and many members of parliament, from across the political divide.

The origins of that day go back to two separate events, 29 years apart. One was on 25 November and the other on 6 December. The first was the assassination of the three Mirabel sisters in the Dominican Republic in 1960, but the more commonly known event was in 1989, what has become known as the Montréal massacre. On the afternoon of 6 December 1989, Marc Lépine, a student of the Ecole Polytechnique de l'Université de Montréal, massacred 14 of his fellow students, all of them women. His victims were 12 female engineering students, one nursing student and one university employee. He also seriously injured 10 other women before killing himself. He described himself as an antifeminist.

Marc Lépine's actions traumatised the Canadian people and brought the issue of violence against women to the forefront of their collective consciousness. In response, a group of men in Toronto—Jack Layton, Ron Slusser and Michael Kaufman—decided to speak out and work to stop men's violence against women. Michael Kaufman has visited Adelaide, and many of us have heard him speak. In 1991, they initiated a male-led movement known as White Ribbon, with an annual awareness raising event (White Ribbon Day) to be held between 25 November and 6 December. White Ribbon is now an international effort in over 57 countries of men and boys working to end violence against women.

The Greens are pleased to support the second reading of this bill, which represents an important legislative advance, which now needs to be backed up by the injection of more resources into the wide range of services and programs that help keep women safe and support them when they fall victim to domestic violence.

That means better housing services and it means better health services, particularly mental health. On top of the criminal sanctions, we also need much more attention paid to the rehabilitation of the perpetrators of domestic violence, to help them understand the unacceptable nature of their behaviour and to equip them with skills to better manage their anger and other inappropriate behaviours. Again, the health services have a key role to play in relation to mental health, as well as drug and alcohol services.

I look forward to the swift passage of this bill and to the introduction of further measures that help reduce the scourge of domestic violence.