Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Amendment (Review) Bill 2016

12th May 2016

Mr GREG PIPER ( Lake Macquarie ) ( 10:21 :06 ): I support the Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Amendment (Review) Bill 2016 and welcome the added protection and support it will provide to the victims of domestic violence. Domestic violence, whether physical, emotional or psychological, or any other form of violence, is totally unacceptable. This bill responds to recent recommendations from the Domestic Violence Death Review Team as well as from other statutory reviews.

Sadly, Lake Macquarie has a concerning rate of domestic violence. In fact, in some corners of my electorate, domestic and family violence rates are amongst the highest in the State, though I note that domestic violence is a blight on society and is not limited to any particular area or demographic. Police, government agencies and support services do a fantastic job in responding to this scourge, but the problem is growing and more people are seeking intervention and assistance. For all those charged with addressing this problem there is always a shortage of resources and, in many cases, other pressing matters competing for attention.

Last financial year there were more than eight serious domestic violence assaults every day in the Hunter Valley region, which is unbelievable. That is almost 3,000 in a year and more than 10 per cent of all cases recorded in the State. In Lake Macquarie, 730 domestic violence related assaults occurred, up 34 per cent from a decade earlier. It is a disturbing blight on our communities and one that simply cannot be ignored. Refuges for women and children in the area simply do not meet demand and some victims are turned away, often returning to the violent homes from which they are trying to escape.

Police have trialled new support services in Lake Macquarie with great success, as has been done in other areas. These services are picking up the pieces and providing better support for victims but they are not reducing the frightening numbers or attacking the root cause. I wish to acknowledge the hardworking police officers in the Lake Macquarie Local Area Command who do a fabulous job across the board. They take domestic violence very seriously and they respond extremely well. I am grateful for the leadership delivered by Superintendent Brett Greentree, the local area commander, and his executive officers.

Domestic violence is overwhelmingly perpetrated against women and frequently—if not on most occasions—by partners who claim to love them. Violence against women, including domestic and family violence, can only be stopped by a cooperative and multifaceted effort including the community calling out perpetrators for what they are—cowards and bullies. Our community, including our political leaders, must maintain the highest level of interest in addressing this problem and, amongst other things, the inequality of women. Kelly Hansen, chief executive of Nova for Women and Children in my region states:

… women's voices must be heard, they must have equal representation in leadership and executive roles. As long as the voices and roles of women are considered by some to be of less value than those of men, women can be controlled and abused.

Legislators like us, she says, act quickly and decisively on public forms of violence such as the so-called coward punch, but are much slower at legislating for the much more common incidence of domestic violence that claims many more lives. I believe that is changing—indeed this bill is part of that change—but a jaded view along these lines is understandable, in particular from someone who often sees the impact of domestic violence. There is great complexity in the underlying sociological paradigm that has allowed domestic violence to flourish and there is complexity in the psychopathology of perpetrators of domestic violence. However, I have no doubt that a lack of respect for women generally, as alluded to by Kelly Hansen, is an underlying part of this problem.

I applaud the Government and the Attorney General on their willingness, amongst other things, to expand the apprehended domestic violence order [ADVO] system and to give greater protection and support to victims while working towards a reduction in domestic violence incidents. Specifically, I am pleased that the definition of "domestic relationships" is being changed as this will go some way towards controlling the harassment, violence and intimidation that often occurs between former partners. It will do more to provide greater legal protection to all who are at risk. I am pleased to see reforms that will expand the criminal categories for which an ADVO can be sought.

It is greatly distressing that we have such a high rate of domestic violence in our modern, largely well educated and generally progressive society. We must ensure that our laws offer the best possible protection to victims, and we must continue to review and reform legislation in a way that will reverse the rate of domestic violence in our communities. Most importantly, however, we must continue to address the underlying cause of this shadow across society by early intervention, in particular with children, so that these behaviours are not learnt in the first place and then transferred from generation to generation—unfortunately too often from father to son.

I note the Opposition's support for this bill other than the reporting period for the Domestic Violence Death Review Team being changed from annually to biennially. At face value this seems incongruous but it must be recognised that this change is in accordance with a specific request from the State Coroner. I do not feel qualified to argue against the Coroner's reasoning, though I imagine the Opposition's reasoning will be explained when it moves its amendments in the other House. The mostly non-partisan response to this bill has been pleasing to hear. I hope that this will largely characterise debates in sensitive areas such as this in the future, although I have no doubt that members would have much more in common on this than on other such subjects. Once again I acknowledge the Attorney General and her staff, thank them for introducing this bill and commend the bill to the House.

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