FAMILY VIOLENCE PROTECTION AMENDMENT BILL 2014

Ms GRALEY (Narre Warren South) — I am pleased this afternoon to speak on the Family Violence Protection Amendment Bill 2014.

I note that many of us are again speaking on this bill because it has been returned from the Legislative Council with a series of amendments. These amendments were the result of many issues that were highlighted by the Labor opposition when the bill was previously before the Legislative Assembly.

I suppose I should take some heart from the fact that the government has finally listened on this matter and that these amendments are now before us. As is often the case, it takes some time to rattle government members into action as they arrogantly pursue their own agenda. I hope they have learnt something from this because it is very important that this issue is not subject to some pie-in-the-sky ideas about how it should be dealt with. That should be a matter of intensive and extensive consultation with stakeholders, community service organisations and indeed with some of the people who themselves have had the experience of family violence. These are eleventh-hour amendments before us, and I have to say that whilst we are glad to see them here they are probably not as perfect or extensive as we would like.

We nevertheless will not be opposing them, and as I said, we surely hope government members have learnt from this mistake and that it opens their ears to what is happening out there in the community.

As we know, this issue of family violence is of immense proportions. It is impacting on the daily lives of thousands of people in our community. I will refer to the Victoria without Poverty report, which I believe was sent to all of us in this house by the Victorian Council of Social Service, because this is its state election platform for 2014. I will read an excerpt from this report because it contextualises how harrowing this issue of family violence is and why we as a Parliament have to do something very concrete and very extensive about it. It is a statement from a family violence survivor, who said:

My ex-partner harassed and stalked me for the last four years. He has breached intervention orders constantly. He has contacted colleagues and friends … spread rumours … and has made public calls and ‘pages’ on Facebook for people to come and take our child from me so I ‘get what I deserve’. In between these incidents of abuse he has proposed marriage to me, begged me to go back to him and sent me gifts. He has previously broken into my home … I report everything to the police.

I am glad she does, but it just shows you in that one statement — and I imagine there are many others like it from women who have had the sometimes menacing experience of family violence — how one minute women are being told they are loved and on the other hand are being told they are the scum of the earth and are going to have their child removed from them. This is an awful problem that confronts us as a Parliament and as a society. There are no easy solutions to this problem, but it does require us to take action. I will read the key statistics — not just the voice of a survivor but the statistics. They say a lot, because they are alarming. The report says:

Violence against women by their partners is the biggest contributor to ill health, disability and death in Victorian women aged 15-44.

In 2009 it was estimated that violence against women and their children cost the Victorian economy $3.4 billion.

I must say I have noticed recently that some companies and some councils are allowing family violence victims and survivors to take a certain amount of leave so that they can use the time and resources to attend to the matters that are often caused through family violence. They have the time off to go to health appointments, go to court or have time out
with their children. In a forward-looking society, this is something we should encourage where sectors can afford to provide it. I do not know how you get up and go to work the next day if this is your experience at night. I know people who have not wanted to leave their own home because they do not want to leave their children behind. They do not want to leave their pets behind. We have to look at those issues too.

We have to look at how women can easily leave their home if it is necessary, but at least some councils and some companies are making it that little bit easier for people on their payroll to access services and support by providing them with timely and appropriate leave.

The report continues:

Over the last 10 years, the number of family violence intervention orders finalised has more than doubled.

That is a reflection not only of the increasing number of reported incidents — and as I have already said, it takes courage to do that — but I am sure it also has something to do with the change of culture that was led initially by the former Chief Commissioner of Police, Christine Nixon, and has been taken up by the current chief commissioner.

They have moved away from seeing issues of family violence as ‘just domestics’ to issues that require specialist and highly responsive police attention.

It is appropriate that laws continue to be monitored, assessed and updated to reflect community attitudes and the attitudes which people have brought to our attention and to which they want to see us respond.

These matters have been raised not just by the police, and I note that Police Association Victoria has called for legislative changes to empower police members to issue family violence safety notices to protect victims 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. That is the specialists in the field saying this should not happen, and I am pleased to see the government is responding to the issue. The opposition agrees that the time has come to remove the safety net for perpetrators and recognise the positive work that our police members and other support agencies are doing to protect women and children.

Therefore we support this proposed section of the bill.

I conclude by saying I was very proud at our state Labor conference to see the Leader of the Opposition stand up and announce that, should we have the honour of being elected to government by the Victorian public at the end of this month, we will establish the first ever royal commission into family violence. This announcement has received broad endorsement across the sector and from community members.

I know Labor Party members, particularly older females, were that day crying when the leader made that announcement. That was their reaction because they had worked with many people affected by family violence and some of them had had that experience themselves, and they were just so proud of that the Leader of the Opposition had decided that a royal commission was the way to go about addressing what I have already said is a very complex issue.

I do not think we have the solution. I do not think it is here in this bill.

We need to look more broadly and consult more widely, and we need to hear the voices of those survivors telling us what they think should happen and what they need. I am pleased to see that the Victorian Council of Social Service is also bringing to the attention of the government and the opposition that the Coroners Court’s Victorian Systemic Review of
Family Violence Deaths plays a critical role in our understanding and addressing factors leading to family violence.

Labor has said it will support the reinstatement of that family violence death review. Statistics do not tell the whole story, but they certainly help. I believe in the value of research in informing us as decision-makers and community leaders. If we do not have the
statistics and the information, I am sure our decision-making is the poorer for it.

As I come to the end of my contribution to the debate, I am glad to see that the government has finally opened its ears and listened to what some other people have had to tell it. I wish the bill a speedy passage through the house. I thank all those family violence survivors and family violence community support services for voicing their opinions.