Jenny Leong calls on the Government to criminalise Coercive Control

Jenny Leong MP, Greens Member for Newtown has called on the government to urgently act to criminalise coercive control.



Ms JENNY LEONG (Newtown) (11:58): On behalf of The Greens, I contribute to debate on the Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Amendment (Coercive Control—Preethi’s Law) Bill 2020. I thank the member for Shellharbour for bringing this incredibly important issue to the House today. We have previously debated a motion brought by the member for Shellharbour along similar lines, and as we consider this bill we recognise the importance and the significance of what is before us. The Greens absolutely support reform to criminalise coercive control behaviour in New South Wales and absolutely welcome the support of the Opposition and the Government. We agree that urgent reform is needed, but The Greens can only support the bill on the basis of recognising that significant amendments will be required to achieve its aim. We certainly appreciate the intentions of the member for Shellharbour, but the complexities of the issue mean that much more needs to be done to ensure the bill delivers what is needed. Obviously The Greens will offer in principle support to this bill in this place. Were it to pass this Chamber, we would work collaboratively and constructively to move a significant number of amendments based on expert and stakeholder views in the other place to ensure that this legislation truly does achieve the goal of effectively criminalising coercive control in a manner that is supported by evidence, experts and key stakeholders, and delivers on the needs of victim‑survivors.

I give the Attorney General credit for the detail and specific nature with which he has engaged with the content of this private member's bill and his response, which shows his commitment and respect to the significance of this issue. Given the concerns he raised and outlined, it is clear that it is unlikely we will see the passage of this bill today. But, having said that, I can absolutely give The Greens' support in this Chamber to whatever form we end up seeing of the criminalisation of coercive control in New South Wales. I know my colleague the Hon. Abigail Boyd in the other place gives her commitment to work constructively to make sure that stakeholders are consulted, listened to and engaged with. Due to the sheer limits of time I will not go through in detail all the suggestions and amendments that we would bring were we to get to the other place. We would hope to be in that situation but, given the Attorney General's comments earlier, it is unlikely so I will not go into detail on those amendments here.

I note that my colleague in the other place and The Greens spokesperson for domestic violence, Abigail Boyd, also has a bill to criminalise coercive control. That bill was the product of wide and extensive consultation over the course of a year or more. It has strong support from key stakeholders, experts and victim‑survivors. I urge members in this place to take a close look at that bill, because it is the model of best practice in terms of coercive control legislation. We need that type of legislation to properly address this issue in New South Wales. The members in this place and, indeed, the Attorney General have made it very clear in recent months that domestic violence and abuse, such as coercive control, cannot be tolerated. Recently some important reforms have been achieved together across party lines.

It was extremely powerful to hear the Attorney General just moments ago, as the Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, acknowledge that reform in this area of law is required. Hearing someone in his position acknowledge in this place that we need to address this issue is something. It is very rare that a member of the Liberal‑Nationals Government will send shivers down my spine and make me feel proud to be a member of this place, but I was watching the proceedings from my office and felt genuinely proud. Because I think all of us would have stories and know of incidents where this has occurred and felt hopeless in situations where we could do nothing about it.

The acknowledgement from the Attorney General of New South Wales that this issue needs to be dealt with, the establishment of the joint select committee, and the recognition of the need for cross-party support, education and training around this are absolutely important steps forward. Domestic violence remains far too prevalent in our society. There is still a lot more to be done in this place and in the community to ensure that first responders, courts and social services have the tools they need to properly protect victim‑survivors and deal effectively with abusers. Perhaps the most pressing issue in this space is the one that appears before us today: to acknowledge in law that domestic violence can take many forms, and that in almost all cases of domestic violence reported in New South Wales, coercive or controlling behaviour on the part of the abuser is a key factor. Coercive and controlling behaviour is domestic violence. It is well past time that our laws reflect that.

Only then can abusers be properly held to account and victim‑survivors receive the support and justice they deserve. Only then can we be in a position to perhaps prevent the inevitable progression into extreme physical violence and, far too often, the murder of women and children across this State. That is what we are talking about today. In almost all serious domestic violence cases, coercive and controlling behaviour is a prevalent aspect of the relationship long before the situation escalates to unthinkable and horrific violence. Coercive and controlling behaviour is a precursor to almost every domestic homicide in New South Wales and around the world. Currently in New South Wales being physically violent with your partner is illegal, but controlling your partner through fear of this violence is not. Telling your partner who they can or cannot talk to, isolating them from their support networks, denying them access to financial independence, monitoring calls or reading texts—these behaviours are not currently illegal. But we all know they are happening. We all know they are happening every day. I would bet that every member in the Chamber could think of one incident in the last 12 months where they have been suspect about this kind of behaviour by someone they know, a constituent they have met or potentially someone in their office. We all know it is happening but that it is not a problem in law; it is clearly a problem in society.

Our justice system has no legislated understanding of domestic abuse outside of physical or sexual violence or as a pattern rather than individual instances. But that is what domestic violence is. That is how it exists in our society. Only by recognising that can our laws enable us to appropriately support victim survivors and prevent escalation. The criminalisation of coercive and controlling behaviours in the context of domestic and family abuse will allow the justice system to more appropriately respond to patterns of abusive behaviour, particularly where physical and sexual violence is not present or cannot be documented. Members in this place have listed the stark statistics many times. Some have shared and continue to share personal stories and case studies. I hope they do that with the consent of the victims' families, recognising that these people deserve dignity in death which was not provided to them in life. We recognise the humanity of victim-survivors of this abuse.

Once again I acknowledge the passion and commitment of the member for Shellharbour who clearly feels strongly about this issue. I also reiterate the significant amendments that are needed to the bill and recognise that the complex area of law means that consultation and input from experts, stakeholders and victim-survivors needs to be undertaken. I acknowledge the work that my colleague Abigail Boyd has done in this space. I also acknowledge the families impacted by the trauma and tragedy around coercive control. They have my utmost respect for their strength and determination, because nobody wants to be in that situation. By becoming advocates to try to achieve change they show a level of strength that we can only respect and acknowledge.

I also acknowledge and thank the advocates in this space, the experts: Domestic Violence NSW; Hayley Foster at Women's Safety NSW; Sally Stevenson and others in her team from the Illawarra Women's Health Centre; the New South Wales team of Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia; Women's Legal Service NSW; and Rebecca Glenn, a friend and advocate and founder of the Centre for Women's Economic Safety. They do incredible work as advocates on the need for action on issues of financial abuse, coercive control and domestic abuse. Together we will get there. We have known this is a problem for too long but we must do more than just recognise that. As Abigail Boyd said when introducing her bill in the other place:

Criminalising coercive control will not wipe out domestic abuse. Only drastic cultural change can do that. But a real commitment to resourcing, community education, training and education of the police and judiciary, and significant funding for crisis and support services, can end the abuse for many people who currently live in fear.

We have that responsibility in this place and I look forward to working with everyone collaboratively until we deliver on that need.

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