Family Violence

Royal Commission Into Family Violence

13 April 2016


Mr WALSH (Murray Plains) — I rise to join the Premier, the Leader of the Opposition and particularly the Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence in responding to the motion to take note of the Royal Commission into Family Violence report before the house today. I start by congratulating the minister on her work and what she has achieved. We all come to this place to make the world a better place for all Victorians, and I think the minister can be very proud of what she has done through this royal commission. I congratulate her. No Victorian should live in fear or grow up in an abusive household, and I think that is something on which we are united across the chamber in making that a reality here in Victoria. This royal commission is a big step forward in doing that.

The royal commission was given some specific tasks, including finding the most effective ways to prevent family violence and improve early intervention so as to identify and protect those at risk — to support victims, in particular — particularly women and children, and to address the impact of violence. Another task was to make perpetrators more accountable. As I said in my response when Rosie Batty spoke to this house, I believe perpetrators are not only those who actually commit family violence but also those who ignore family violence and do not report it. They are just as guilty as the perpetrators themselves.

Other tasks were to develop and refine systematic responses to family violence, including in the legal system and by police, corrections, child protection and legal and family violence support services; to better coordinate community and government responses to family violence; and to evaluate the measure of success of the strategies, frameworks, policies, programs and services that are introduced to put a stop to family violence. The commission was tasked to make practical recommendations to achieve those outcomes, and there are 227 recommendations in the report.

There is a long journey ahead, but the government has already started that journey by making some significant announcements today. We congratulate it on those announcements to start that journey. If we look at the most common form of family violence, it is intimate partner violence committed by a man against their current or former partner. One of the sickening statistics about this is that a woman dies at the hands of a current or former partner almost every week somewhere in Australia. As a male, that statistic makes me feel absolutely sick — that our gender in the human population would commit those sorts of horrendous crimes here in Victoria. As has been said by previous speakers, I commit myself and The Nationals to making sure we do everything we can to work across the chamber and, in future times when we are on the other side of the chamber, to make sure that the royal commission delivers real outcomes, particularly for women and children here in Victoria.

The most common forms of violence — the causes of family violence are complex — include gender inequity and community attitudes towards women. I think that is gradually improving, but there is obviously a lot more to be done. It is about, as the Leader of the Opposition said, respect for women in the future. We all have mothers, sisters, grandmas and daughters. We have respect for them, and we should make sure that everyone has respect for those of the female gender in the population here in Victoria.

Contributing factors may include financial pressure, alcohol and drug abuse, mental illness or social and economic exclusion. They may be the causes, but they are not excused, and we need to be very clear that they are not excuses for people to commit family violence. We need to be very sure also that the perpetrators take responsibility for their own behaviour and that victims are not blamed for the abuse that is perpetrated on them. That was part of a culture that should be well and truly gone in this state. We do not want to see those things happen ever again in the future.

The commission’s conclusions are interesting as well. In congratulating the minister for what she has achieved it is also very important to acknowledge what has been done in the past. The commission concluded that Victoria has been at the forefront of family violence policy development and reform in Australia for the past 15 years, and both sides of politics can take some credit for that happening. That has led the commonwealth government, other states and international governments to recognise the fact that we have done that. It has been done with the combined efforts of a lot of people. We had Rosie Batty speak to the house; she is someone who has really led the charge in the last few years. Ken Lay, when he was the Chief Commissioner of Police, really stepped up to the plate and made a significant difference. He then went on to chair the commonwealth task force around this, so he is someone who has made a significant contribution.

But I suppose the ones I would like to acknowledge today are all the silent people, particularly the victims, who over time have continually raised this issue and probably put their personal safety on the line a number of times to report perpetrators and particularly to support other victims. I think it is important to acknowledge those unknown people, who have made a huge contribution to the outcomes we are seeing here today.

I also acknowledge the former minister, Mary Wooldridge, a member for Eastern Metropolitan Region in the other place, for the work she did that led to some of the changes that have already been put in place and that the royal commission report builds on. Mary can be very proud of the work she undertook when she was the minister.

In my contribution I would like to focus on a couple of the recommendations in the report from a country perspective, because there are some significant challenges for country people around distance and the time it takes to travel. I highlight recommendation 8 and the consequential recommendations further in the report around the court system. It may be the case in the city, but I know in the country that a lot of courthouses are not well structured and set up for domestic violence cases to be heard.

The classic example of that would be the Echuca court, where there is a small waiting room. There is one entrance and exit that is shared with the main office of the local council. When I talk to police and lawyers there they say it is a hotbed of trouble waiting to happen. You have the perpetrators, you have the victims and you have the families all in a very confined space, sitting sometimes for quite a length of time waiting for a court case, and that leads to trouble.

In relation to implementing the recommendations around courts, I encourage the government to implement an investment strategy to make sure that the perpetrator and the victim can be separated as they come into court. That will make it a lot easier, particularly for the victims and their families as they go through that process.

I would also like to touch briefly on recommendation 12 around the new approach and the support and safety hubs. There is a request in the report from the royal commission that the safety and support hubs be set up within the next 12 months. The idea, as I understand it from the report, is that there be one hub set up in each of the 17 districts of the Department of Health and Human Services regions in Victoria. Again, one of the challenges for country Victoria is the distances around this. I know the Premier and the minister will be very well aware of this, but what we do not want to find for country victims is that an 1800 number is actually the Department of Health and Human Services safety hub. We need to make sure people have access to services, whether it is outsourced to some of the other community service delivery organisations or however it is done, but it is important they have access to those services quickly so that if there is an issue, they are not waiting 24 hours for a phone call back, or those sorts of things. I acknowledge the nods from the government about those issues.

In concluding, this is another opportunity for this house to be seen at its best. We saw it with the Betrayal of Trust report in the previous Parliament. We are now seeing it with the royal commission report here, where politics are put aside and the best is done for Victorians. Again I congratulate the minister on that. But I particularly come back to the issue of acknowledging all those who have worked over the decades — and quite often they were victims of family violence — with the relevant authorities and whose efforts and combined support for each other have led to the sorts of outcomes we are seeing now. I acknowledge what was done before the royal commission report and also those who actually appeared before the royal commission to make sure their stories were heard. I acknowledge the minister’s work in ensuring that a lot of that evidence was given in private, and I can understand why that was done. I acknowledge them for what they did.

As I said, Rosie Batty and the tragedy of her life with the death of Luke gave the extra impetus for society and for parliaments right across Australia, including here in Victoria, to do something about this. I again put on the record the contribution that Ken Lay made as Chief Commissioner of Police. He really led the charge on this and can be very proud of what he contributed over that time. I commend the motion to the house and, as has already been said, look forward to working with the government to make sure there are real outcomes from this, and particularly, from my point of view and from my party’s point of view, real outcomes for people in country Victoria.


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