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Family Violence Reforms Bill 2022

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Tuesday, 16 August 2022

Tags: Family Violence, Legislation

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Speaker, the Greens strongly support this bill that is before us today. We are proud to have a long history of tripartite support in this area of legislation and in all reforms that can be undertaken by the Government to improve the situation for victims/survivors of family violence.

This bill makes some important contributions with the declaration for repeat family violence offenders and the requirement to participate in behaviour-change programs as part of family violence orders. We are very supportive of one of the aspects of the declaration of a serial family violence perpetrator, and that in particular is the requirement for a person who holds a firearms licence to not be allowed to hold that licence for the duration of the declaration and to forfeit their right to possess a firearm for the duration of the declaration.

On a personal level, as somebody who sat on the joint firearms committee, it was something that many doctors and people who work in the health sector spoke very passionately about. Of the two loose conditions for the proposed weakening of the firearms laws which was proposed by the Liberals before the 2018 election, part of which would have meant there was not the robust conditions around the ownership of a firearm, there was a very strong view - understandably - that the possession of a firearm in circumstances of family violence is extremely dangerous - dangerous to women, children and potentially more widely in the community. There are still rump views in the community that people have a right to hold a firearm. That is a view that has no place in Australia, it never has, and the National Firearms Agreement makes that very clear. We are very supportive of this.

I have a range of other comments to make, and questions. We have an amendment that we have drafted, to talk about this matter more deeply in Committee. We do not plan to hold a long discussion about it, but we want to go into that matter in detail.

First of all, I will speak about some of the comments made by stakeholders. The Women's Legal Service, in their comments about the expanded definition of family violence, clause 5, section 7, felt very strongly that the cultural change needs to be led from the top. They talked about extending the definition of family violence beyond intimate partners; in particular that children need to be seen and viewed by the law as victims/survivors in their own right. Currently, young people have to rely on restraint orders for protection. I would like the Attorney-General to comment about that concern raised by the Women's Legal Service and whether she has any response to that or whether there is any further legislation under discussion with the Women's Legal Service in relation to that matter.

Section 16, which requires a perpetrator to attend and participate in a rehabilitation program, is very important. I have questions about the number of rehabilitation programs available in Tasmania and whether they are located across the state in different regions. If there is a mandated requirement to attend and participate, they need to be of a quality and number that make it possible for people to do so in a way that is not unreasonably onerous.

The Women's Legal Service also had some questions about this. They said that 'our understanding is that one of the main benefits of men's behaviour change programs is that they provide an opportunity for victims/survivors to safely leave while the perpetrator remains under observation'. They said, 'We are not aware of any conclusive evidence base that establishes behavioural change programs reduce the likelihood of a person committing family violence or that they effectively and permanently result in an attitudinal change in the perpetrator'. The Women's Legal Service supports further investment by the Government in longitudinal studies to measure this as an outcome.

Could the Attorney-General please provide a response to that: whether the Government has any intention to make an investment in this area, or if she is aware of information about the effectiveness of the programs being mandated that the Women's Legal Service does not know about?

I also have a question on section 16, where it is a requirement that the court satisfy itself that the person is able to participate in the rehabilitation program and that the rehabilitation program is available for the purpose for the person to participate in at a suitable place and time. This raises the question, which I referred to previously: how many programs are available and what would happen if a court would like to make an order that a perpetrator must participate but finds that there are not, in the court's view, sufficient for that person to be able to participate at times that are suitable or places that are suitable? What is the Government's plans to provide a suitable breadth and availability of these programs across the state so that there would be no possibility that a court may not make such an order?

In relation to Part A and the declaration of serial family violence perpetrator, the Women's Legal Service is very supportive of the declaration of serial family violence perpetrators. They ask he question about where the predominant perpetrator has been misidentified. They said:

We want the court to take into account the cycle of abuse as described by both parties and an active acknowledgement that the law will not simply focus on incident-based offences. Patterns of behaviour and power and control must be taken into account. Significant investment into police training and accountability around who is, in fact, a predominant perpetrator needs to be supported to ensure that this provision is applied against a working knowledge of the gendered drivers of family violence.

Could the Attorney-General say whether there has been any conversations with the minister for Police about an investment in police training and measures for accountability around the matters the Women's Legal Service has raised, whether they need to be supported to ensure that the provision is applied?

They also point to the approach adopted in the United Kingdom where training occurred for the entire justice system to make sure that the serial family violence offence is understood throughout the whole justice system. That was adopted in the UK when the offence of coercive control was operationalised and it has increased the safety of women and children in the UK. I would appreciate if the Attorney-General could talk about the approach for training across the whole justice system.

Section 29C relates to the making of orders if there is a declaration. It provides that when determining whether to make any other order, a court or judge may order the Commissioner of Police or any other person to provide the court or judge with an assessment of the suitability of a person for electronic monitoring.

We have been alerted to an anomaly where an electronic monitoring device remains on an individual even though we understand that the person's previous partner no longer resides in Tasmania. It has raised the question about the length of time electronic monitoring devices remain on people. I do not know whether there are regular periods of reassessment or whether something would trigger the reassessment. However, it seems concerning, as we understand in this case, for a person to continue for an indefinite period, being bounded to a certain radius or away from other areas when the person -

Ms Archer - I do not think it is ever indefinite.

Dr WOODRUFF - This may not be true but we understand there is a situation where the other party has left the state. If you are able to make any comment on that, that would be appreciated.

In relation to our amendment, I can flag that we have an amendment to clause 4, section 4, part (b) and the definition of harassing. We will discuss that when we are in the Committee stage.

I give particular thanks to all the people who have made submissions. Their work is incredibly valuable. We thank Engender Equality, Yemaya, Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia, and the Women's Legal Service. A number of other parties made submissions. Anne-Marie Wallace and a range of people together made submissions, including Dr Caroline Spiranovic, Dr Rebecca Bradfield, Professor Kimberley Norris, Dr Isabelle Bartkowiak-Théron, Dr Romy Winter, Dr Kate Cashman and Associate Professor Sonya Stanford; as well as Community Legal Services, TasCOSS, the RSPCA and the Australian Lawyers Alliance.

I want to assure the people who made those submissions that they were carefully read/. I thank the Attorney General for preparing the bill before us because it makes some very significant steps towards creating safer conditions in Tasmania for women and children who may be or are victims and survivors of family violence.