SPEAKING ON A BILL | FAMILY VIOLENCE PROTECTION AMENDMENT BILL 2017

Mr MELHEM (Western Metropolitan) — I also rise to speak on the Family Violence Protection Amendment Bill 2017. In doing so I note that family violence is the number one law and order issue in Victoria, with more than 78 000 family incidents reported to Victoria Police in 2015–16, a figure which has increased by over 45.3 per cent since 2012. The Andrews Labor government has made a historic commitment to addressing family violence and helping ensure that victims of family violence are supported.

The Royal Commission into Family Violence made 227 recommendations. This government will implement all of them, and the 2017–18 budget will invest an unprecedented $1.9 billion to implement recommendations from the royal commission. That is the biggest investment by any government in Australia to address family violence in our society. It is an investment that will help to save lives. It will help us to respond to the needs of victims, keep them and their children save and hold perpetrators to account.

The Family Violence Protection Amendment Bill 2017 responds to a number of recommendations by the commission which aim to improve the operation of the system of family violence safety notices and intervention orders and the response of the justice system to family violence. The system of family violence notices and family violence intervention orders will be improved by, firstly, creating a rebuttal presumption that children are included in family violence intervention orders to ensure that children who experience family violence receive appropriate protection, which is based on recommendation 22. Secondly, this legislation will allow courts to order applications and family violence intervention orders to be served by means other than personal service. This aims to ensure that orders come into force more quickly and to allow police to focus on high‑value policing activities, which relates to recommendation 57.

The bill will also clarify the court’s power to strike out family violence intervention orders appeals where the appellant fails to appear, which is based on recommendation 75. It will extend the maximum period of operation of family violence notices from five working days to 14 calendar days. This will give parties more time to prepare before the first court date, which was recommendation 76.

The bill seeks to repeal the system of self‑executing orders that was introduced in the Family Violence Protection Amendment Act 2014 but which has not commenced, which was recommendation 78. Also, this legislation will require the courts to explain the interaction between a family violence intervention order and any family law child protection orders so that the effect of these is better understood, which is a response to recommendation 132.

The bill will require the Director of Public Prosecutions to approve prosecutions for the ‘failure to protect’ offence in section 327 of the Crimes Act 1958. This is an additional safeguard for accused who are themselves victims of family violence, which relates to recommendation 30 of the commission. This legislation will also expand the recorded evidence‑in‑chief provisions for children and cognitively impaired persons to proceedings for family violence offences, which is a response to recommendation 72.

Also, the bill will establish the Victorian systemic review of family violence deaths (VSRFVD) unit in legislation. This unit will support coroners to formulate prevention‑focused recommendations. That particular system was introduced back in 2009, and in accordance with the royal commission’s recommendation 138 the bill will provide the legislative basis for the VSRFVD unit. The new provisions include a functions provision that clarifies the role of the unit. Its functions are to examine deaths suspected to have resulted from family violence; identify risk and contributing factors associated with death resulting from family violence; identify trends and patterns in deaths resulting from family violence; identify trends and patterns in response to family violence; and provide coroners with information obtained through the exercise of these functions. So the bill will basically make that unit part of legislation to make sure it is enforceable and can continue the work that was done previously.

Also, the bill talks about allowing the Koori Magistrates Court and County Court to deal with contraventions of family violence safety notices and family violence intervention orders, which is a response to recommendation 150.

The bill will also strengthen local leadership by requiring councils to include measures to prevent family violence and respond to victims’ needs in their municipal public health and wellbeing plans and to provide information about those measures to the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, which is a response to recommendation 94. It is important that local government is involved in this process to make sure that we are delivering on our commitment as a society to prevent family violence and to assist the people who are being subjected to family violence.

As we know, every four years councils prepare municipal public health and wellbeing plans which provide strategic leadership for prevention in local communities. These plan have regard to the Victorian Public Health and Wellbeing Plan 2015–2019 and provide a line of sight that connects statewide policy to local actions. Prevention of violence and injury is one of six priorities of the Victorian Public Health and Wellbeing Plan 2015–2019. It is very important to involve local government, and this sort of approach makes sure that we deliver on our commitments. The bill also amends the Coroners Act 2008 to allow coroners to publish information about family violence intervention orders and proceedings.

I will conclude by saying this: when the Labor Party, led by Daniel Andrews, was campaigning before the 2014 elections, the now Premier made a solemn commitment to eliminate family violence, to address that chronic issue that we face as a state in relation to family violence, and he announced that a family violence royal commission would be established. The first thing Premier Andrews did when he came into office was establish that commission. The commission did a great job. There was tremendous work done by the commission and its staff, and all the recommendations coming out of the royal commission have been either implemented or are in the process of being implemented.

There is no point just establishing a royal commission into a matter if you are not prepared to invest in actually addressing the outcome, and this is why we have seen the investment of a further $1.9 billion in this year’s budget. This will put us in a good position to make sure we deliver on our commitments, to make sure our families are safe — our partners, wives, children — from abuse by predominantly male offenders. I think we owe it to them to make sure that we address these issues, and we pride ourselves as a society on providing a safe haven for our families, for children, for our wives, for our sisters and for our mothers. I think it is important that we do that, and I am actually pleased that this has cross‑party support. We can always have debate about whether it should be done this way or another way, but I think we all agree on the core approach that we are on the right track and we are doing the right thing to make sure family violence is addressed in our society and that we protect the most vulnerable people in our society. With those comments, I commend the bill to the house.

9 May 2017