SPEAKING ON A BILL | JUSTICE LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (FAMILY VIOLENCE PROTECTION AND OTHER MATTERS) BILL 2018

Mr MELHEM (Western Metropolitan) — I also rise to speak on the Justice Legislation Amendment (Family Violence Protection and Other Matters) Bill 2018. The bill responds to the six recommendations from the Royal Commission into Family Violence. The family violence royal commission was established by the Andrews Labor government and was one of the key election commitments that was given by Premier Daniel Andrews prior to the election. It was a historical commitment, and I think it was long overdue. I just want to take the opportunity to congratulate the Premier and the Labor government on initiating the royal commission and implementing all of its recommendations.

I also want to pay tribute to the work that was done by the previous Parliament, particularly Ms Crozier, who chaired the committee inquiring into family violence. Good work was done by that committee. That was used as a platform for the royal commission and the work the government have done in this space. I also recognise the work that was done by the late Minister Fiona Richardson in that space as well. I just want to acknowledge the hard work she did in that space. It is one of the reasons we see this second stage of legislation basically continuing to implement all the recommendations from the royal commission.

For all these people who have been involved in implementing various pieces of legislation to make sure family violence is addressed in this state, it is unfortunately still one of the highest level crimes committed in the state. The good news is that over the last few years everyone has been talking about it, everyone is doing something about it and the attitude from men is changing. We have still got a long way to go, but family violence is on the agenda front and centre and that is a pleasing thing. That is why the Andrews Labor government continues to implement the recommendations of the royal commission.

This is the second stage of justice-related legislation. Two years after the royal commission handed down its final report these amendments in the bill strengthen Victoria’s efforts to respond to and prevent family violence. The bill also makes amendments to various acts to complement the royal commission’s recommendations, such as an amendment to facilitate the electronic issue and transmission of court and tribunal documents. The royal commission recommendations that this bill specifically deals with go to extending the therapeutic treatment order regime to 15 to 17-year-olds, and enabling the trial of a scheme to allow complainants to give recorded statements for later use in their evidence-in-chief in family violence offence proceedings, which is royal commission recommendation 58. It enables specialist Family Violence Courts to be established. It makes changes to all Magistrates Court headquarter courts, in line with recommendation 60. It also facilitates the rollout of online family violence intervention order applications, which is recommendation 74 of the royal commission. It also empowers courts on their own motion to make interim family violence intervention orders in criminal proceedings, which is royal commission recommendation 79. It inserts dowry-related abuse and forced marriage as examples of family violence in the Family Violence Protection Act 2008, which is royal commission recommendation 156.

The bill will make other amendments, as I mentioned earlier, to complement the royal commission’s recommendations, and these are to strengthen the current therapeutic treatment regime in order to give the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services and the Children’s Court greater oversight of children subject to therapeutic treatment orders. It empowers the Children’s Court to make orders requiring adult respondents to final family violence intervention orders to attend men’s behaviour change programs. It removes a requirement that a respondent to a final family violence intervention order must live in a particular postcode in order for a court to order them to attend a men’s behaviour change program.

It also promotes the practical operation of the provision of the Family Violence Protection Act 2008 that allows the Magistrates Court and Children’s Court to make family violence intervention orders on their own motion to protect children in family violence proceedings. It also abolishes the right of appeal against interim family violence intervention orders and personal safety intervention orders and clarifies and refines the system for varying and revoking interim orders. It facilitates courts and tribunals using electronic processes to issue and transmit documents — for example, warrants and orders. It is all about streamlining the process and making sure access to justice is made affordable and efficiency is improved.

One of the areas this bill will also address is the ability to introduce an evidence-in-chief scheme and run a trial, which has come out of the royal commission also. The reason for that I think is very important. As part of the evidence collected at the scene of an incident there will be cameras and the trial will allow victim survivors of family violence, referred to as complainants, to make a statement that will be recorded by a police officer and later used as evidence-in-chief in relevant family violence criminal and civil proceedings. The recorded statements will also be able to be used in court proceedings by court order. We all know that it is very important that, when police are investigating or responding to a matter, they can take a statement from victims while it is fresh in their minds. They will be able to do that, to take evidence, and that evidence can later be used in court when proceedings are taken against an offender.

We all know that with family violence there is a lot of pressure in some cases applied to victims whether by the perpetrators or by other family members basically not to come forward or trying to force them to change their story. These and various other circumstances they are put in could lead to some technical arguments where the perpetrators basically get off scot-free. I think introducing that is a very important tool so the perpetrators can be brought to justice and so that the complainant, the abused or the people who are suffering family violence do not have to go through the same trauma again months or years later. I think it is a very important tool to introduce to make sure we can take the stress out of that.

As to the training of police officers, the bill proposes that recorded statements be taken by a police officer attending a family violence incident using a body-worn camera. The police officer will be appropriately trained according to instructions made by the Chief Commissioner of Police. The training will include how to use the technology and conduct an interview, and information about the nature and dynamic of family violence. The government has just introduced and rolled out the body-worn cameras, and those are very welcome tools to be used in fighting crime. That is one of the areas the bill addresses.

The new offences which the bill creates under clause 116 — new section 387L — are to protect the recorded statement from being improperly shared or published, protecting the complainant from the footage being used to further victimise them. That is something I have touched on earlier, and I think that is why it is very important that that protection is provided for complainants. It could also help reduce the time it takes for court to hear family violence matters and, as I said earlier, reduce the trauma for complainants associated with giving evidence in court.

The bill also talks about rolling out some online application for family violence interventions orders, again to streamline the operation. These provisions will enable the Magistrates Court to develop a truly online application process that will promote greater accessibility to the court for victim survivors of family violence. One of the concerns was about making sure people do not make false statements when they lodge a claim because currently they will have to put in a sworn affidavit when they lodge the application, but enough safeguards will be put in place as part of the online process to make sure a person is not making a false statement when they put in their application.

The bill under clause 29 makes it an offence to knowingly make a false statement in the declaration of truth. The bill will also give power for the making of family violence intervention orders, which relates to the royal commission recommendation that courts be empowered ‘to make interim family violence intervention orders on their own motion … during criminal processes’.

That is very important because sometimes it is put upon the complainant to apply for that. But that is another area where you could take the pressure off the complainants, and the court could actually make its own intervention order in the criminal proceeding, which is something we welcome.

The last aspect I want to talk about is family violence related to dowry-related abuse and forced marriages. In a society like ours I do not believe that these sorts of things should continue to exist — not in this country, not in Western society and not in a society where the rights of women are valued and protected. In some cultures that might have been acceptable 100 years ago or 1000 years ago, but in a country like Australia I do not think we should tolerate this sort of behaviour where a woman is put out for sale, basically. A man can go and buy a woman to be his wife by making a certain payment to her family. That is something that may have happened 1000 years ago, 2000 years ago or maybe 100 years ago, and maybe it still exists in some cultures around the world, but it certainly should not continue in this country. That is why I am pleased that is now covered by this legislation, and it will hopefully stop. The bill will give tools to the police, to law enforcement agencies and to the court to deal with it.

The royal commission heard that women in some culturally and linguistically diverse communities experience specific forms of family violence including dowry-associated violence and forced marriage, but that these forms of abuse may not be readily recognised as family violence by some within these communities. That is the point I was making earlier, that they do not believe it has anything to do with family violence. They think it is part of their culture and therefore it is okay. Well, I say it is not. The bill responds to that family violence associated with dowry and forced marriage as specific examples of family violence in the Family Violence Protection Act, and also the provision will increase awareness of this type of abuse.

The bill, also in clause 15, makes it clear that a person ‘using coercion, threats, physical abuse or emotional or psychological abuse to demand or receive dowry, either before or after a marriage’ can constitute family violence. I think it is really important that we not just stop that but that we provide education that if this behaviour continues it will actually constitute family violence.

In conclusion I again want to congratulate the government and the minister on introducing this bill as a follow-on from the legislation which was introduced in 2017. I notice more work is happening in that space. We have a bipartisan approach. I want to congratulate everyone who has been involved in this space and in making sure family violence in this state will become a thing of the past, and hopefully the crimes and the rate of family violence in Victoria will continue to decline over time. With those words, I commend the bill to the house.

 

27 July 2018