Family violence

National Domestic Violence Order Scheme Bill 2016

30 August 2016

30 August 2016

Ms RYAN (Euroa) — It is a great pleasure to rise today to speak on the National Domestic Violence Order Scheme Bill 2016, which as the name very simply suggests ensures that domestic violence orders which are created in other states are recognised in Victoria and vice versa. I think that this is a very important change, and as my colleague the member for Gippsland South highlighted a little earlier in the debate, it is hard to understand, as a relatively new member of Parliament, why this change has not actually been implemented earlier. Obviously it is a Council of Australian Governments (COAG) reform, and sometimes we see that reforms through COAG can move at a glacial pace, but I certainly do welcome the fact that the government has brought this legislation now to Parliament.

At present a person who is protected by a domestic violence order in one state or territory but who perhaps moves or lives close to the border and wishes to ensure that that order is recognised in another state or territory does need to register that order with a court in that other jurisdiction. I cannot possibly imagine what it must be like to go through that process in one state only to be forced to do it again.

One of the things that really stuck with me out of some of the commentary from the royal commission was the difficulties that women, particularly women in a regional setting, face when they apply through the courts for an order. One of the big issues that the royal commission highlighted was that courtrooms and police stations do not always separate victims from perpetrators. They do not always have the facilities for that to happen, and victims often run into the perpetrators when they go through that process. That is certainly something that I have seen locally in Benalla, where we have our courtroom — and I have highlighted this on a number of occasions in this house — which is located right next to the police station, but the police station is also very, very old and police officers do not have any way of separating perpetrators from victims in cases of family violence.

People who presented evidence to the royal commission raised a significant concern about the safety of victims when they attend court, because they have found that it often results in an escalation of violence or controlling behaviour from the perpetrator. I think that is one of the reasons why it is particularly important that women do not actually have to go back to court in a different state or a different territory in order to have a domestic violence order enforced.

While I appreciate that there are some challenges in the implementation of this bill, I do think that it is a concern, as other members of the coalition have flagged, that there is no proclamation date within the bill. I think as the legislation is drafted currently it could be any length of time before it actually takes effect; that could be months, it could be years, it could be decades.

The government has made very strong statements about its commitment to reducing the impacts of family violence, and those commitments are bipartisan. Certainly there is goodwill on both sides of this chamber and from both houses to ensure that this problem is addressed as effectively as it can be, but if the government is to deliver on those commitments, it should be prepared to proclaim the bill immediately in order to afford women and children the greatest possible protection. We have all heard the statistics around family violence — that one woman in Australia is killed almost every week by a partner or ex-partner and that more than one in three Australian women who have had an intimate partner have experienced violence from a partner or ex-partner, but whilst we talk about those statistics a lot we have to remember that behind every one of those statistics is an individual story, and that is truly horrifying.

Sometimes it feels that in order for legislation to change, tragedy has to occur, so I am pleased that this has come forward without waiting for yet another tragedy, despite the fact that they are happening on a daily and a weekly basis. Again, as the member for Gippsland South highlighted earlier in the debate, rates of family violence in regional Victoria in particular are significantly higher, and country areas have the local government areas with the highest rates of family violence, Campaspe being one of them. This bill has particular relevance, as some other members have mentioned, to communities in Western Victoria but also along the Murray, where people frequently cross state lines. People in communities such as Mildura, Swan Hill, Echuca, Wodonga and indeed even Benalla and Euroa, which are not that far from the border, need the certainty that the orders that are made through the courts will be valid no matter what side of the river people live on.

In my own area there are some amazing organisations working at the coalface, trying to cope with the large number of women and children who face family violence. I note that the member for Ovens Valley is in the chamber. He shares with me the Centre Against Violence, which is based in Wangaratta but delivers services into Benalla. I would like to mention some of the statistics from its last few years of operation because they are quite amazing. The centre delivers family violence crisis support and accommodation services. It cared for 329 women in crisis care last year. There were 161 women and their children provided with crisis accommodation in the form of refuge and motel stays, and a total of 2688 bed nights for women and children.

The centre also provides a sexual assault service. In the past year there were 282 women, 102 girls, 55 men and 21 boys who came to the service, and that counselling and crisis care is offered, as I mentioned, not just in Wangaratta and Benalla but also in Wodonga, Myrtleford and Mansfield. So there is a lot of wonderful work being done locally. I would also particularly like to take the opportunity to highlight to the minister and the department — because I am sure the officials will go back and read over Hansard — the work of Tessa Stow from my area, who has been working to try to develop a pilot program in the Benalla and Wangaratta court system, with the use of companion dogs. She is actually a qualified veterinary nurse, and I have written to the Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence about the amazing work that Tessa has been doing. The program has been successfully trialled in the United States, and there are now 116 court dogs who are authorised to work in the United States. The studies that have been undertaken on that program show that it significantly calms children and women as they have to give testimony to courts, and it often results in a higher conviction rate because they are better equipped, by remaining calm, to give evidence.

Tessa has faced some barriers in being able to get the court system to agree to implementing a pilot project in Benalla and Wangaratta, and it is something I would strongly urge the government to look into to see whether we could at least test that program. Again, the royal commission highlighted the importance of local solutions in local communities, and here is one that I think is certainly worthwhile and deserves consideration.

In conclusion, I am very pleased to see the bill come forward. It is disappointing that the government is yet to include a proclamation date. I think there might be scope for that between the houses, and I certainly urge the government to do that.

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