Crimes Legislation Amendment Bill 2018

23rd October 2018

Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) (19:34): I too contribute to debate on the Crimes Legislation Amendment Bill 2018 and cognate bills, the Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Amendment Bill 2018, the Mental Health (Forensic Provisions) Amendment (Victims) Bill 2018, and the Victims Rights and Support Amendment (Motor Vehicles) Bill 2018. I suggest that, given enough time, most members will find that they will all too often be frustrated in trying to assist victims of crime. Occasionally it is due to the significant complexity of the case, but often it is due to the inadequacy or absence of laws for a given situation. Each of these bills goes some way towards reforming laws, and that will provide greater protections, clarity and security to victims.

In his review earlier this year of the Mental Health Tribunal, former Court of Appeal judge the Hon. Anthony Whealy, QC, found that in some cases we become so obsessed with crime and punishment that we forget about the victims. I believe that is not due to a lack of concern for victims as such; it is just that all too often victims' rights get lost in the debate and sometimes the rights of offenders are given greater attention than are the rights of victims. That must change. I turn first to the Crimes Legislation Amendment Bill 2018, which introduces new penalties for the offences of strangulation, choking and suffocation. Victims of domestic violence, and groups in my electorate who endeavour to assist them, have long called for reform such as this, particularly when it comes to formally recognising this type of behaviour is the red flag that indicates more serious harm is to follow.

I note the work that the NSW Domestic Violence Death Review Team has done in this area. I must say that I was astounded to learn that in 25 per cent of domestic violence homicides, the victim had been subjected to strangulation or choking in violent incidents by a domestic partner long before they were actually killed by that domestic partner. That is horrific. I also note the statistics produced by the Attorney General in his second reading speech: Women are eight times more likely to be killed by an intimate partner if that person has previously attempted to strangle or choke them.

The only way we can attempt to mitigate these senseless and violent deaths is to make the deterrents and penalties greater, as well as, most importantly, educate. I believe this bill attempts to do that, but I worry that too often offenders are so removed from the normal empathy and social conscience we want or expect from them that education will be unlikely to change them as a person. However, awareness and perhaps fear that the maximum penalty for strangulation or choking will be five years in jail may still be a helpful deterrent to some. I note that this bill addresses five other recommendations that came from the NSW Domestic Violence Death Review Team. I do not intend to address each of those, but I am broadly supportive of them.

I turn now to the Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Amendment Bill 2018—or "Dolly's law", as it has become much better known in the community outside this House. I acknowledge the tireless campaigning by the Everett family following the very sad death of their daughter Amy "Dolly" Everett earlier this year following a lengthy and despicable period of harassment and bullying on social media. When I consulted my community on this particular issue, the response was overwhelming. Of the many people who responded to those discussions, not one said that this reform was not needed. It seems that everyone has been subject to, or knows someone who has been subject to, some very serious forms of online stalking or cyberbullying.

I do not hesitate to point out that while this type of bullying has grown in line with the rapid growth in online media and conversation, it is not limited to young people but also common in adults who should know better. It is also worryingly now an extremely common form of abuse in most domestic violence cases. This bill will change the definitions of intimidation and stalking to include what occurs online. Stalking and intimidation no longer will be just a physical thing, but will be extended to the bullying of a person online "with the intention to cause fear of physical or mental harm". I also note among other reforms that apprehended domestic violence orders will be varied to take in cyberbullying, stalking and harassment. I believe this bill brings the law into line with modern community needs, and indeed expectations. It also keeps us somewhat in step with rapid technological advances. We know that this type of intimidation, sadly, has become common in our modern world and we are seeing some tragic consequences—including, of course, the very sad and avoidable death of young Dolly Everett.

I will now quickly address the Victims Rights and Support Amendment (Motor Vehicles) Bill 2018. I commend the Attorney General's efforts to broaden eligibility for compensation and support to the victims of homicide. Legislators cannot predict every scenario that may occur. Therefore, there are often new scenarios and previously unthought-of scenarios and criminality that are not covered by those laws. In the case of Nick McEvoy, it is hard to imagine that a motor vehicle might be used as a weapon by someone with the intention to kill deliberately, and even harder to envisage that the victims of such a crime should be included specifically in compensation programs. It took the very sad death of Nick for the shortcomings of existing legislation to be exposed, but I am pleased that those shortcomings will be rectified by this bill.

Finally, I will comment briefly on the Mental Health (Forensic Provisions) Amendments (Victims) Bill 2018. The Attorney General covered the provisions of the bill during his speech. As I have mentioned in this House on numerous previous occasions, while my experience is not contemporary, for many years I worked as a psychiatric nurse at Morisset Hospital. During that period I saw many things, including the broad impacts of crimes committed by some mental health patients. This legislation provides greater support to victims. Specifically, I note amendments to section 28A of the Crimes Sentencing Procedures Act, which will give victims the right to make victim impact statements in court proceedings even when the perpetrator has been found not guilty of an offence on the grounds of mental illness, or was determined to be unfit for trial.

As we saw most recently in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, giving victims an opportunity to speak publicly in a court, and in a protective and supportive environment, significantly improves their recovery or healing process. I note that there has been extensive stakeholder engagement on this issue and it has been met with broad support from victims' support groups. I also acknowledge that victims will be better informed. The bill establishes a victims' register, administered by the Commissioner of Victims Rights, to keep victims better informed about court hearings, decisions and the release of offenders that may further impact on victims and their families. That is a welcome initiative.

As I said previously, this bill is in line with the findings of the Whealy inquiry. While I am aware that further reforms are needed, I accept the Minister's word that those reforms are in the process of being formulated and are coming. I believe the reforms in these bills allow us to refocus on the rights of victims—the rights of those who are bullied into submission and sometimes suicide; the rights of many women who are subject to the most vile forms of domestic abuse; the rights of victims' families; and the rights of victims who are sometimes excluded from the legal process. I believe, and I certainly hope, that these amending bills will improve trust in a system that will provide much stronger protections to the innocent and give victims a stronger voice. I commend the bills to the House.

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