SPEAKING ON A BILL | PREVENTION OF FAMILY VIOLENCE BILL 2018

Mr MELHEM (Western Metropolitan)  — I am pleased to speak on the Prevention of Family Violence Bill 2018. In doing so I just want to reflect on what has led us to this point. I just want to go back to 12 February 2014, when Luke Batty was murdered by his father, Greg. Greg had a long history of family violence against his partner and Luke’s mother, Rosie. As a result of that, the subsequent inquest into Luke’s death highlighted a range of systemic failures in our responses to family violence. It was tragedies like this which drove the Andrews Labor government to instigate the first-ever Royal Commission into Family Violence on 22 February 2015. That was one of the major announcements the then opposition, now Andrews government, made — to initiate a Royal Commission into Family Violence.

Throughout the royal commission witnesses gave evidence of the family violence they had experienced, witnessed or knew about. That demonstrated that we needed reform, including reform of police, justice, community services, government agencies and workplaces. The 13-month commission concluded with a final report with 227 recommendations, which we moved swiftly to commit to implementing. To date I understand that we have implemented 63 of these recommendations, with the remainder underway, and it is expected that by the end of 2018 around 70 per cent of the recommendations will have been implemented. Frankly, we owe it to the women, we owe it to the children and we owe it their children. We owe it, overwhelmingly, to the victims of this kind of abuse to fix this system.

I agree with some of the comments Ms Crozier made, which highlighted that we need to deal with the people who are actually committing the abuse — predominantly men. It is no longer acceptable as a society that they continue to commit violence against their children, against their partners, against their wives and so forth. It is not acceptable in our society anymore, not in the 21st century, not in Victoria, and we need to do something about it. We are doing something about it.

I do not agree with Ms Crozier’s comments about trying to critique what the governments have done in that space. I thought the comments would have been of encouragement and of acknowledgement about the good work this government has done in this space and with no criticism of the previous governments either. They have started a process, but we have taken it a step further than any other government in the commonwealth of Australia. I think following the royal commission — I am going back to Rosie Batty and the royal commission’s recommendations — there has been a bipartisan approach.

Today I just want to pay tribute to and remember the former Minister for Women, the Honourable Fiona Richardson, who passed away 12 months ago. I think today is a fitting time that we are, in her memory, now implementing another tranche of recommendations coming out of the royal commission, which is recommendation 188. I think it is fitting to actually pay tribute to her and to her legacy.

Now, remember when all sides of politics got together and they basically agreed that one thing we can do is make sure that family violence stops in this state and that family violence will be a thing of the past. That is what we aim for and that is what we would like to see, but is that going to be a reality? Is there going to be zero family violence committed in this state of Victoria? Unfortunately the bad news is the answer is no — because we are dealing with humans. Humans sometimes commit heinous crimes — they just basically cannot help themselves — and most of those who do are men, because they use their physique. They think they can get away with it. They commit violence against their own children, against their partners, against their wives and so forth, and that sort of thing has to stop. But I think the good thing is the community at large now is better educated and there is more commitment from everyone to basically say, ‘Family violence has to stop’.

I think it is a good thing that our kids in the current generation, the new generation, are learning that violence is no longer acceptable and family violence is no longer acceptable. Respecting women, respecting partners and respecting our fellow human beings is something that should be part of our teaching and something we should actually go and teach in workplaces. That is where Respect Victoria will come in. Part of our response to recommendation 188 of the royal commission is basically to establish an independent agency to do exactly that.

If I may, I will quote from the royal commission in relation to this particular point:

Unless we address the problem of family violence at its source, and get better at preventing it from occurring in the first place, our communities and support systems will continue to be overwhelmed …

Strategies that seek to prevent violence against women focus on addressing gender inequality by, among other things, challenging gender norms and attitudes towards women …

… prevention efforts need to address social conditions such as socioeconomic disadvantage; discrimination based on race, sexuality or age; and prior exposure to violence alongside gender inequality.

That is from volume 6, page 1, of the Royal Commission into Family Violence report. It then goes on to say:

There is a plethora of programs, some positive innovation, and strong sector momentum to continue the work in prevention …

Implementing the family violence prevention plan will require a process to oversee and coordinate prevention activities within and across government, local government, community agencies and the broader community.

So that is exactly what this bill would do. It is to establish an agency like Respect Victoria as an independent statutory agency which will have ongoing funding. My understanding is that the government has already committed a dedicated base funding of $3 million per annum for the agency’s operation. In addition to $100 million for prevention programs over the last four years, the government has already provided $12 million for Respect Victoria, and it will continue to receive dedicated and sustained funding.

The funding is there, the agency is there and the board has just been appointed, including the chair and the CEO. The agency is currently in the process of advertising and starting to look at employing staff to basically carry out the work. I think it is important to note that the agency is an Australian first, and it is possibly a world first for an agency like this to actually exist and be enshrined in legislation.

Respect Victoria will drive part of the implementation of Victoria’s Free from Violence primary prevention strategy and action plan, the development of which fulfils recommendation 187. It will coordinate activities and provide expert advice on best practice. It will drive communication and engagement with the community to change the culture that allows family violence to happen in the first place, and it will lead research into what works to prevent family violence before it starts. It will develop a framework for monitoring progress in family violence prevention, including endorsement of primary prevention programs, raising standards over time. It will provide advice to government, organisations and the community on best practice in primary prevention. It will promote awareness in the community, including through the delivery of behavioural change campaigns, and have the ability to fund programs with the authorisation of the minister.

Respect Victoria will also inform government, industry and the community on what works in the prevention of family violence. It will address the gendered and other drivers of family violence, including ageism, racism, homophobia and transphobia. Respect Victoria will create a trusted brand. I think it is very important to have a brand that everyone can trust. It is away from the political arguments and away from political interference. Having that statutory authority in place makes sure of that and ensures that we have in place the right people at the head of the organisation. I think we have done so with the current appointments to the board. We need to make sure that we have that trusted brand so they can run campaigns and education programs in the community and workplaces so that the current generation, and most importantly the next generation and the generation after that, get to a situation where family violence becomes a thing of the past.

We can do it. It is going to take a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of commitment, but it can be achieved. Will it be achieved tomorrow? Unfortunately not. It is going to take a bit of time, because family violence statistics are among the highest for crimes committed in Victoria and Australia, and I would say probably in the world. That is something that we have to take a medium to long-term approach to so we can make sure that the day comes when the problem has been eradicated.

By providing endorsements, Respect Victoria will provide expert direction to ensure effective and coordinated programs. Through the use of its brand and expertise, Respect Victoria will encourage non-government-funded programs to seek external validation. It will also be required to provide meta-analyses of programs and trends, further strengthening its coordination function.

Obviously the agency will also provide ongoing advice to government about how we are going in implementing the recommendations that came out of the royal commission, how we are travelling, how we are tracking in trying to eradicate family violence, where programs are working and where they are not working — they might need a bit of adjustment — where investment should go and what programs we need to make sure we achieve the ultimate goal, which is a state or a world free of family violence.

I will say this to every man in Victoria and Australia: committing a violent act against your mother, against your wife, against your daughter or against your child is not acceptable. That has to stop, and it has to stop now. I say to other men: if you know of someone committing these crimes, it does not matter how low level that crime might be, stand up and put an end to it. I say to the victims: stand up, talk about it and report it so we can do something about it. Collectively we can achieve this; collectively we can actually change the way of thinking and reduce and hopefully one day eliminate family violence in this state. With those comments, I commend the bill to the house.

 

23 August 2018