Ms FORREST (Murchison) - Mr President, the issue of family violence is clearly at the forefront of public discourse in Australia at the moment. That does not mean family violence has all of a sudden become pressing and out of control. It does mean the public and its leaders alike are now saying enough is enough. I am pleased to be able to say from the outset I wholeheartedly support the Hodgman Government's loud advocacy on this issue.
I read an interesting article in The Guardian on 11 September written by journalist Jess Hill. Jess Hill is an investigative reporter who contributes to Radio National's Background Briefing and The Monthly. She has reported exclusively on domestic violence for the past year and on Thursday was the recipient of three Our Watch Walkley Awards including the Gold Award for reporting on violence against women.
It is not a particularly long article but I would like to read it. It highlights a lot of the background misconceptions perhaps around family violence. The heading of the article states -
What I have learned about domestic violence in my year reporting on it.
Pretty much everything I thought I knew about violence against women and children turned out to be wrong. Here is how.
When I started researching domestic violence last year I thought I basically understood it. Some men, driven to distress by things such as unemployment, substance abuse or mental illness were unable to control their anger and took it out on the person they loved the most.
We have all said and done things we are not proud of in relationships. I thought domestic violence was just the extreme extension of that. It took about two weeks for that notion to be demolished. Dozens of conversations with survivors and advocates revealed a very different reality. Understanding it was like being given the key to a secret room.
Domestic violence is not driven by anger, first and foremost. It is driven by a need for, and a sense of entitlement to, power and control. But someone with such a powerful drive to control would surely reveal that at work or among friends, I thought. But I was not right about that either. Sometimes they do, but often perpetrators come across as normal, good people, even pillars of the community.
It wasn't until I spent months researching and writing about it that I began to understand why most people don't get domestic violence. It doesn't make sense. The traits are often entirely counterintuitive and attempts to look at it through the lens of common sense can actually drive you further from the truth.
It doesn't make sense that even women who are smart and independent will stay with a man who treats them like dirt. It doesn't make sense that even after fleeing a woman is likely to return to that man six times on average. It mustn't be that bad, people say. It doesn't make sense that someone you know to be a good bloke could be going home to hold a knife to his wife's throat. None of it makes sense. But the more you learn about the nature of domestic violence the more sense you can make of it.
For me, a big penny-dropping moment was reading Trauma and Recovery, Judith Herman's landmark book on understanding psychological trauma. In it she equates the experiences of domestic violence victims to those of prisoners of war. In both situations establishing control over the other person is achieved through the 'systematic, repetitive infliction of psychological trauma', designed to instil fear and helplessness.
Survivors who have escaped this systematic abuse often emerge from it confused and utterly disoriented. Tragically that means they often do not present as credible witnesses in their post-traumatic state, their stories can be fragmented, highly emotional and contradictory.
In the court system, especially in cases determining the custody of children, victims can appear mentally disturbed and overly anxious, especially compared to their ex-partners who come across as composed and reasonable. In a system where most lawyers and judicial staff are not trained to recognise the signs of family violence, victims, even the ones with court orders on their side, can find themselves being accused of making up allegations to gain advantage.
According to a 2013 survey by VicHealth, a statutory health authority in Victoria, 53 per cent of Australians think women going through custody battles make up or exaggerate claims of domestic violence to improve their case. Until I started researching this phenomenon I believed that too.
What is even more confusing is that commonly, perpetrators believe they are the victim. They will plead their case to police, even as their partner stands bloody and bruised behind them. They can genuinely believe their partner provoked them to commit the abuse just so they could get them in trouble. After a while the victim starts to blame themselves for the abuse too. After all, he is so nice to everybody else.
The fact domestic violence is so counterintuitive is exactly why the media needs to keep telling these stories. But we journalists need education on it too, so we do not continue to make the same old mistakes. Never again should we see journalists looking to the behaviour of the woman to explain why she has been murdered or maimed. Never again should we see journalists making excuses for men who kill their families, as though stress could ever be a reasonable excuse. The work is hard but it is worth it.
Looking around at the room full of domestic violence advocates and survivors at last night's Our Watch Awards - launched this year in collaboration with the Walkley Awards to recognise reporting on violence against women - it really hit me how important this work is. Domestic violence does not make sense but for these people, and for the thousands who are suffering in silence at this very moment, we need to make sense of it.
I thought that was a well constructed opinion piece from a journalist who has spent the last year in that area. It blew a lot of myths out of the water for me and I am sure for anyone else who takes the time to read it. It is on The Guardian and I encourage members to have a look at it. I have not looked to see if there are comments following it, but I am sure they may add to the debate in this area. I commend that article to you.
Mr President, much of the discussion we are now having follows on from the Australian of the Year Rosie Batty's recent advocacy work. Her recent visit to Hobart coincided with the $27.5 million funding announced by the Government and that is a step that the people of Tasmania should applaud. The $8 million announcement for the Safe Families Tasmania is a positive one. Bringing agencies together to tackle this issue is also very positive.
I believe all Tasmanians and all Australians welcome the attention to this issue around the country. The magnitude of the problem is just beginning to emerge, partly because there is greater reporting, which is good and makes us more aware of the need to continue the work. Reporting is increasing, and believed to be due to raised awareness. We are also seeing the use of social media and other avenues being used to highlight the cold harsh reality of this tragedy.
I mentioned in another debate a community Facebook page that I follow called Destroy the Joint. That keeps a total and brief description of women who die in Australia as a result of family violence. These deaths are the ones they know about through media reports. On the 11 September the total was 62 women. The site recently won the Walkley Our Watch Award for the best use of social media. It reminds us of the magnitude of the issue in terms of the loss of life but does not include physical, psychological, economic or other harms, just the loss of life.
I want to read a couple of posts from this Facebook page and suggest other members might like to follow the page because it does hit home to you what is going on. The heading on the page is:
Counting Dead Women Australia 2015
We count every single death to violence against women in Australia - 62 by September 10. If you are using the research from this project please credit the work of the researchers who do this heartbreaking and difficult work. They are the Counting Dead Women Australia researchers of Destroy the Joint.
They go on to say:
We thank the many journalists in Australia who continue to report responsibly on the epidemic of violence against women and whose work is used here as a reference.
I have some short snapshots.
September 10 - a woman is dead after being shot in the head at a McDonald's restaurant at Helensvale on the Gold Coast. The gunman, who was known to the woman, was taken [to the] Gold Coast University Hospital with critical injuries to the head after turning the gun on himself.
September 10 - the same day - Tara Brown, 24, died of injuries received a day after being forced off the road and bashed while trapped in the wreckage of her car. Her ex-partner Lionel Patea, 24, has been charged with attempted murder.
September 9 - unnamed woman in her 60s and her grandson, 8, stabbed to death in Lalor Park. Unnamed man, 45, has been taken into custody. He is the son of the dead woman and an uncle of the dead boy. No further details.
Every state has a sad account.
May 14 - Olga Neubert, 37, died in hospital after being shot in her car in New Town. Klaus Neubert, 73, her estranged partner, has pleaded not guilty to murder. He is also charged with causing grievous bodily harm to Josephine Raymos Cooper, 53.
The list goes on with a total of 62 but I am not going to read them all. I looked at where these deaths were occurring and they occur everywhere. They occur in the park with people walking home, they occur on a street, in restaurants, but the majority of them were at home.
March 2 - Kris-Deann Sharpley, 27, who was heavily pregnant, shot dead in her home in Biddeston. Her son Jackson, 7, also killed. The father, Derek Sharpley, 52, then shot himself.
Home is not a safe place for so many of these women and their families. I wanted to read that as an idea of the work that is being done to raise awareness of this issue in a way that is constructive and helps to remind us of the challenge we have. That is just the deaths, it is not all the other trauma, and it is disturbing.
The amendments before the House today necessarily build on the Safe at Home legislation of 2005. As the Leader said, those laws change the presumption in Tasmania to be one for arrest to occur and bail to be refused when dealing with matters of family violence. You can see the home is one of the really unsafe places. In circumstances like this, more women are killed in their own homes.
It is important to recognise that what we hoped to achieve from the amendments before the House today are that all Tasmanians, women and children in particular, are provided security and safety to complain about problematic and abusive relationships. It must be recognised that family violence can be, and is, perpetrated against men and women in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships. Therefore my comments relate broadly to all cases of family violence. It must also be recognised that women and children are significantly over-represented in this area, and special attention to this reality is necessary.
A vital aspect of seeking to ensure that victims of family violence are able to safely report events is the establishment of an effective network that supports and empowers these people who are in such awful situations, enabling them to come forward without having to fear the repercussions to either themselves or their family. We need to remember the pro-arrest, anti-violence approach to the Safe at Home legislation has necessarily brought about some situations which are hugely disruptive for families and the individuals who are involved. I do not make any apology and I do not believe the Government does either. We should not overlook that fact; there are always two aspects to this important legislation.
Mr President, from the nation‑shocking murders of Jill Meagher, Luke Batty, and Tara Brown last week in Queensland, it seems as if the Australian public has decided to say enough - enough of allowing the destructive and vilely destructive nature of family violence to affect the way our fellow Australians get on with their lives. The Adrian Bayleys of the world may not be able to be regulated into becoming a better person who will no longer commit evil crimes, but we as a society must do our utmost to work through it with them to try. Rehabilitation is necessarily part of who we are as people and where we can ensure that individuals can be and are rehabilitated, we do this and support this.
This is part of the base of my views in regard to indefinite sentences for offenders and mandatory sentencing - which is not a matter for this bill, I know, Mr President; I mention it very briefly. Mandatory sentencing actually erodes the independence of the judiciary from the political system. We want a legal system that reflects community attitudes once the community has had the issues explained to it. As most of us will recall from previous debates in this area, a report undertaken by our now Governor, Her Excellency Professor Kate Warner and the late governor, the Honourable Peter Underwood, on the jury system in Tasmania concluded that it would result in more lenient sentences than those imposed by the judiciary in the research they undertook. I believe this view was held for all offences other than crimes against children and sex‑related offences. So the community does clearly hold quite strong views in this area.
Queensland's government, led by Annastacia Palaszczuk, this week introduced a range of new legislation and new funding to assist with the scourge of family violence. The language surrounding that legislation and these amendments before us has rightly been tough and is the language of being tough on crime, the language of being tough on family violence and family violence offenders. However, I do not believe that our community is one that merely locks people up and throws away the key. We must hope and strive to do better. It is not a society that merely places people in custody and leaves them there.
The sort of discussion that this debate does not need is language that calls into question the commitment and motivation of those individuals that serve our community as police officers, prosecutors, magistrates, judges and Parole Board officers. Their work is difficult work and often a thankless task. I cannot abide criticism that suggests mistakes have been made or sentences handed down with the intention of being easy on offenders in spite of their offending.
Ours is a system that requires individuals to be seen in their entirety and deserve to have their position put before an impartial tribunal with evidence tested and decisions made by experts. We, as a community, should demand that level of scrutiny. That scrutiny therefore requires a system that is necessarily a colossal beast. It consists of all those stakeholders and more. My experience of people in that system is that they are very deeply committed individuals doing their best and trying in an emotionally draining field of endeavour.
The suggestion in most of the language surrounding the operation of the criminal justice system and the Parole Board has been quite acidic at times, to say the least. Some suggestion that our magistrates do not have the best interests of Tasmanians at heart, the suggestion that our police officers do not do their best for the community, and the suggestion that our judges do not take and treat their roles with the utmost sincerity is both disingenuous and dangerous.
There are many people who serve Tasmania with hard, committed work in combating family violence. Our job now is to bring the whole of the community along with this mission.
I do, however, recognise that Tasmanians need to have faith in a system which should protect them, and through that the system must be open to reform. I also recognise the police must always be aware of the dangers the family violence offenders pose to those that they should be protecting and the police officers themselves should also be provided with ongoing support. Let us not forget that our police are at the absolute coalface of family violence intervention in Tasmania.
Mr President, doctors, nurses, midwives and other health professionals are also often at the coalface and may not be as well equipped to predict or protect themselves, or at times when the patients they are treating are actually perpetrators of domestic violence. I know from my time as a midwife that there are many women I have cared for that have been victims of family violence and in very vulnerable positions during that period of their life, in a number of ways. Sometimes midwives get in between them and it never is acceptable to have an act of violence perpetrated on a health professional, but sometimes it does happen.
Seeking assistance for these women, particularly pregnant women, is not easy and sometimes even being able to talk to the woman on her own about your concerns can be a challenge for the midwife because of that control when the perpetrator comes with the woman for every antenatal check. They are there the whole time during the labour and birth. They are there for postnatal visits and that sort of thing. It is very difficult sometimes to actually intervene and even have a moment to talk the woman. Often it means going to the toilet with her and going to the cubicle and locking the door. That is the extent you have to go to sometimes to actually be able to assist these women.
So our response to family violence must be broad and inclusive. I support the Government's commitment to addressing these challenges and support this intent with additional funding and legislative reform. Through these amendments we see tighter controls, faster administration of court procedure, and the removal of some duplication of proceedings. They are all sensible amendments and have the support of vital stakeholder groups. I note the consultation that is undertaken that the Leader spoke about.
However, reforms cannot simply be more time in custody for offenders before they are proven innocent or guilty or otherwise. It cannot just be more types of offences to which periods in custody apply and generally more punishment. We as a community should be asking for more and we deserve more. The reform also means assistance to offenders. It means education in schools and wider communities about respectful relationships. As Annastacia Palaszczuk called for earlier this week it means finding out the best practice models around Australia and the globe and working towards reducing family violence in all its forms, including the violence and disruption that can occur in families when they are torn apart by rigid requirements of legislation too focused on black and white notions of good and bad without recognition of the complications caused by shades of grey. I recognise that Tasmania was a leader with the Safe at Home legislation and that the current Government is following on from that. I commend them for that.
I have been personally blessed with a life void of trauma from family violence. As the story of Rosie Batty's horrific loss of her son during sports training slowly became apparent all those months ago I thought how fortunate I have been to see my four children grow into healthy confident adults. My home was always a place of safety and security for them, so it is abhorrent for so many young people and families that their home is not a sanctuary - and that has to change.
I am determined along with so many others, and importantly women, that the scourge of family violence must be removed from our communities and this is one area of offending that we simply cannot abide. There can be no more awkward avoidance of unexplained bruises or shackled self‑esteem. As we are beginning on other issues such as mental illness, we need to ask the questions: 'Are you okay? How did you get that bruise? Why did you not come to training last night? We missed you at book club last night; is everything okay? I did not see you at the meeting on Tuesday'. Open a door giving that opportunity. Simple questions that anyone can ask. Questions that in the lives of these individuals can reduce the suffering within them and potentially save lives.
I, and I know other adults and parents, turn a blind eye sometimes and avoid those questions and we cannot leave violence in the home as a private matter anymore. You might not have witnessed the violence in the home but you can witness the impact outside the home. That is where we all need to take some responsibility. As part of that we need more strong men to stand up and say 'enough'. It is how we as a community define strength. I see strong men as those who nourish and respect those around them. Strong relationships are those that are nourishing and respectful. Let us see the shift in the way we speak about women in the public sphere. Let us see women elevated to more positions of respect and equality.
Here in Tasmania we have a proud tradition of leading on a range of social issues. Only in recent years we have had female leaders including Lara Giddings as the former premier of Tasmania; our own Attorney-General, and Minister for Justice, Corrections and the Arts, the Leader of Government Business in the House, a big job indeed, the Honourable Vanessa Goodwin; and we have Her Excellency Professor Kate Warner as Governor. These are all good things but we can still do more.
The touchstone of any conversation about maleness and relationships must be respect. Through that, violence in all its forms must be abhorred and made fundamentally unwelcome. Unfortunately, as Christopher Pyne and George Brandis QC both noted federally, you cannot regulate against evil. What we can do is make moves as best we can as a community making Tasmanian homes safer. That may mean rehabilitating and reforming recidivist offenders. It may also mean detaining them to undergo treatment or programs necessary to assist them to become better men and better contributors to our community.
Nino Bucci reported in The Age recently that family violence offenders that are in custody are going to have increased access to behavioural programs to reduce recidivism. That is good; it is a move that should be applauded. Similar efforts should be welcomed and instituted by the Tasmanian Government.
Speaking specifically about a couple of aspects of the bill before us, I wholeheartedly agree with the Safe at Home focus on the victim and their safety as primary concerns. I also urge the Government to consider any materials and reports published by the Sentencing Advisory Council very seriously in this area. The members of that council are experts with many years' experience.
I also support property damage being included as a type of family violence. I agree with the extension of the limitation period during which to bring a complaint against a perpetrator from six to 12 months. The amendment allowing for interim orders to be made when a matter is adjourned is also sensible.
These amendments should be aimed at empowering women to complain if and when a situation arises where family violence presents itself. We must, however, continue to recognise the complicated shades of grey in any reform - for example, the difficulty with which defendants might successfully have Police Family Violence Orders revoked or the destruction that may be caused to employment for the sole income-earning adult of the family unit if a complaint is made. All these elements can in some ways actually disempower women and victims generally to complain.
Striking a balance in a policy that supports and promotes reporting and one that does not disempower victims can be a challenge. It is a challenge, not a barrier, and an awareness of this challenge is important in developing broad, effective policy.
I appreciate the briefing organised by the Leader, which was held earlier today. During that briefing I raised a concern that I would like the Leader to address in her response. My concern relates to the issue of search warrants under provisions of the Police Offences Act and the amendments made in this legislation. How does the Government see this operating in practice? Clause 6 of the Family Violence Amendment Bill amends section 10 of the Family Violence Act, which deals with the power of police to enter certain premises and provides for a police officer to authorise 'any person'. In such a situation, 'any person' could be a child or someone intimately involved in the relationship in which violence is occurring or is likely to occur. 'Any person' is required to assist the police officer as is necessary in the circumstances, and that person must comply. Failure to comply can result in a fine not exceeding 80 penalty units.
I appreciate there are other circumstances in which this can also be an issue or a challenge. However, someone may be fearful of intervening, even under the direction of a police officer, because of possible retribution further down the track, and may, in a moment of panic, refuse to comply and potentially be subject to this penalty. I know the court has discretion with applying the provision, but I would like the Leader to provide more detail on how she sees that working, particularly when intimate family members who may be involved may be called on to assist.
I also accept that at times the police officers attending such a situation may themselves be in danger - for example, when facing physical violence. This provision would possibly provide the necessary protection to another person to legally assist them. I sought clarification in the briefing about that too, and I would like the Leader to address that. If the police asked a person to assist and they ended up assaulting someone, would they have some protection under this? These situations are often very volatile and people who are involved in them may not have time to think through their actions. I would like more information.
I also have a couple of questions about the necessity to remove the Chief Clerk's involvement when completing paperwork required by the court. I would have thought it may be better at times to have senior staff members of the court dealing with complicated matters of family violence. Sometimes efficiency and speed requires seniority, particularly when the legal issues raised cause parliament to legislate forcefully and magistrates to consider these issues very carefully.
Generally speaking, I am heartened the Safe at Home Steering Committee has endorsed the proposed amendments. I thank the amazing people who work in this area every day. It is not work I would comfortably have the constitution for, particularly over an extended period. The community is better for their service.
I look forward to the continued leadership from the Hodgman Government on this issue. Leadership will be shown, as I have discussed, by explaining the complicated nature of this issue to Tasmanians and leading the conversation towards better relationships, more respectful relationships, better men and better lives for our families and children.
Mr President, while there are some areas I would like a little more detail from the Leader on in her reply, as I have alluded to, overall I support and welcome the bill.