Family Violence Protection Amendment Bill 2014

I rise to speak about the Family Violence Protection Amendment Bill 2014, and I note Labor’s support for the bill. The bill amends the Family Violence Protection Act 2008, which enables family violence safety issues to be issued outside court orders. That is a very important avenue for many women, and there is a great need for it in the community. The bill enables certain interim family violence intervention orders to become final orders without a further court hearing, which is another extremely important advancement. Finally, the bill will allow for the publication of reports about family violence charges and convictions without obtaining an order.

Those three points in themselves have many examples behind them as to the reasons why we are going down this track, but in particular I want to focus on the issue of enabling family violence safety notices to be issued outside court hours and to demonstrate just why that is needed. Unfortunately as recently as last Friday night a woman I know who grew up and has lived in my electorate all her life was assaulted by her partner. The words ‘terrified’ and ‘terrorised’ understate what she went through in her own home when she was assaulted by her partner after an argument turned to violence.

They had not been living together for a long time, but they have a six-week-old baby together. It escalated to the point of assault by her male partner. While she was attempting to call for help he smashed her phone. He then pulled out a handgun and threatened her life. This was all just last Friday night.

She fled the home with her baby in her arms and was forced to hide out in the street, in the dark, from her partner whom she thought was going to shoot her in a very traumatic and dramatic situation.

Fortunately she was able to get into the neighbour’s house whose garden she was hiding in and make some phone calls, both to her family and to the police. However, it took about 40 minutes for the police to attend at 1 o’clock in the morning. It took another very long night for her and her family to ensure that the man was taken into custody — although I have been informed that he was only held for a number of hours before he was released on bail. A court case hearing was tendered for 9.30 a.m. on the following Monday. When you have had your life threatened and been terrorised and traumatised by your male partner, it is a long time to wait from 1 a.m. on Friday night through to 9.30 a.m. on Monday to attend court to look at getting some sort of intervention order in place. I cannot imagine how that poor woman felt when that situation came about. This woman was having to wait and be fearful not only for her own life but the life of her child until Monday morning to get some sort of order in place by the court, including having to front the court and finding the partner more aggressive than ever in front of a judge.

The bill introduces a system which can put in place safety notices in a much shorter time frame, making women safer much sooner rather than later. In the example I have just spelt out the woman was facing a very violent situation on a Friday night and was not able to get some sort of secure help from the courts until Monday morning. That is not a situation anyone would like to be in.

Unfortunately the stats are remarkably outrageous in terms of the ever-growing violence that is happening in our homes. During 2013-14 there were 65 000 family violence incidents reported to Victoria Police, and in that same time 17 000 family violence intervention orders were made, including safety notices. Not long after I was elected I realised that this was such a big issue in my electorate, and I spent two days observing family violence cases in the Magistrates Court at Sunshine. I do not think I prepared myself or took enough tissues along for that experience. I was quite shocked at the number of cases that came before the magistrate that day, in particular of parents — older parents in particular — taking out intervention orders against their own adult children in relation to family violence that had happened in a home. Many of those situations were fuelled and driven by alcohol and drug dependency. At the same time there was a high level of anxiety and depression that was exhibited by the parents who were at the court and also by the many women facing cases.

VicHealth research found that intimate partner violence is the leading contributor to preventable death, illness and disability in Victorian women aged 15 to 44 years. This alone contributes to more depression, anxiety and other mental health issues in this cohort. I do not even have the statistics in front of me around the effects that this has on children, but I know that the long-term effects on children witnessing violence in the home between their parents and also experiencing violence themselves are quite astounding, along with just how long that takes to get over.

In terms of future planning Labor has made some announcements around family violence, but I want to hone in on the issue of prevention. We need to value those victims who are successful in society — those who have gone on to live their lives and break the cycle of family violence and not become perpetrators themselves. When I say ‘successful’, that is what I mean.

If they have been victims of domestic violence or witnesses to domestic violence in their own homes and have been able to live a life where they go on to have a family of their own and break that cycle and not perpetrate violence — not instil that behaviour in yet another generation — they are the sorts of people we need to acknowledge and value and give recognition to. Labor’s announcement to establish a royal commission into family violence will help do that. It will help acknowledge those who have gone through the trauma of family violence, whether that be a one-off incident or something that has happened for years, and then gone on to break that cycle. That is extremely important.

In terms of the legislation before us today, we are looking at building upon the Family Violence Protection Act 2008, a ground breaking act that provided a comprehensive definition of family violence and extended the definition of family member. It also broadened the use of holding powers.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Ms McLeish) — Order! Members in the chamber are particularly noisy. I ask them to give the member on her feet some respect.

Ms Hutchins — There is a lot of ground that has been made since 2008, but the changes that are before us today really show that this is an ongoing issue that needs tackling, and as legislators we need to make sure that we stay on top of it.

On the practice of family violence safety notices, there is scope under this bill to allow for a police officer to make such a notice where they believe it is necessary to ensure the safety and protection of a child or the preservation of property until an application for a protection order can be decided by a court.

In many cases for police on the scene in a domestic violence situation, at the forefront of their mind is getting protection for those whose lives are in danger and getting them to a safe spot, or making sure that the perpetrator is prevented from re-entering the premises or taken into custody if the situation allows for it. We have seen a massive increase in the number of cases of family violence that have been reported, particularly across the outer suburbs. I would like to say that, in order to see a real decline in those figures, prevention is the answer. We need to make sure that we fund our community sector in a way that it can continue prevention programs and help support victims of family violence.