Jenny Leong welcomes important domestic violence reforms

Greens Member for Newtown, Jenny Leong MP has welcomed government reforms which strengthen protections for victim-survivors of domestic and family violence during court processes.


Ms JENNY LEONG (Newtown) (15:58:40): I lead for The Greens in debate on the Stronger Communities Legislation Amendment (Domestic Violence) Bill 2020. The Greens support this bill and its intention, and I acknowledge the Attorney General, his advisers and the department for bringing this much-needed legislation to the House. It is absolutely my hope that all of us in this place can agree that more needs to be done to stop violence against women and reform the so-called justice system so we can achieve justice for women across this State. After close consultation with key stakeholders, particularly Women's Safety NSW, the Women's Legal Service NSW and Domestic Violence NSW, my colleague and The Greens domestic violence spokesperson, Abigail Boyd, will be moving amendments in the other place to address a number of shortcomings in the bill and strengthen some of its provisions.

The amendments are drafted based on the evidence, expertise and experience of those working in the sector. They are now being looked at in detail by my colleague Abigail Boyd. The detailed and committed work of Hayley Foster and her team at Women's Safety NSW, Karen Willis and her team at Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia, the team at Domestic Violence NSW and the Women's Legal Service NSW have informed these amendments. I give credit to Abigail Boyd, who is currently working through the detail of those amendments so that the views, experience and expertise of the sector can be brought into this place to be considered. I urge the Attorney General to consider the amendments closely and to look at whether or not the Government is in a position to support them. I hope that the Labor Opposition will support the amendments so that we can together, collectively, be confident that we are doing all that we can to support victim-survivors.

What is most important in any moves towards addressing domestic violence is that the experiences of victim-survivors are prioritised in informing legislation. It is also important that victim-survivors are empowered as much as possible throughout the processes of implementing preventative measures, reporting violence and attending and court proceedings. Any moves towards reform must be trauma informed and protection based. These principles are at the heart of The Greens proposed amendments and we hope that everyone will consider them closely.

The bill makes a number of amendments to the Criminal Procedure Act 1986 and the Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Act 2007 which have been well received by organisations and groups in the sector on the whole. The bill makes amendments to allow victim-survivors of domestic violence to give evidence in a closed court or to utilise a remote audiovisual link or other similar technology or arrangement. It also requires the court to warn a jury that any delay or absence of a formal complaint of domestic abuse from the victim-survivor does not indicate that the allegation is false and it requires this to be recognised throughout proceedings. These are significant reforms and, as domestic violence advocates and services have indicated, they will be integral in ensuring that victim-survivors feel safe and empowered to use the court process and to go through the court process. Sixty per cent of victim-survivors surveyed by Women's Safety NSW indicated that they had fears or concerns about giving evidence in open court that made them reconsider whether they should attend for their matter. Additionally, 87 per cent of victim-survivors identified that the fear of seeing the defendant was a concern which made them reconsider attending court, and 70 per cent reported that fear of seeing the defendant's friends and family was also of great concern.

As we have heard many other members articulate, the bill also makes amendments to recognise the link between domestic violence and animal abuse and prohibit the harming or threat of harming any animal belonging to or in possession of the victim-survivor. This is achieved by amending the definition of "intimidation" to include reference to animals and including it as a mandatory condition under an apprehended domestic violence order [ADVO]. It will carry a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment. That is such an important consideration as we have heard too many stories of pets being used to either inflict further harm or to prevent a victim-survivor from leaving the situation. This change is essential.

I use this opportunity to once again highlight that restrictions on people being able to have pets in rental properties and strata accommodation further adds to the lack of availability of appropriate accommodation for women and families that are fleeing domestic violence situations. I urge all Government members to do whatever they can to make sure that there are no unintended barriers within the housing space now that we are recognising in legislation the clear link between domestic violence and the misuse and abuse of pets in the context of using that power over victim-survivors. Pets should not be banned from rental properties or strata properties because it adds to the pressures on people who are trying to find alternative accommodation and escape domestic violence situations.

The bill makes several amendments in regard to apprehended domestic violence orders including introducing provisions so that an ADVO ordered against a perpetrator who is imprisoned will remain in place for the duration of the sentence and for at least two years thereafter. The bill will allow for provisional ADVOs to be properly enforced, applied and amended as required by police. It will also allow the court to grant leave to the person against whom the ADVO is made for an application to vary or revoke the ADVO on the grounds that either there has been a significant change in circumstance since the relevant order was made or that it is in the interests of justice to do so. The bill will also ensure that a failure to comply with the requirement to list a provisional ADVO for court consideration within 28 days does not invalidate the provisional order.

The Greens strongly support those important measures. In particular, we note that the introduction of closed courts when domestic violence victim-survivors are giving evidence and the ability to appear via audiovisual links will be groundbreaking in the way domestic and family violence offences are dealt with in court. It will certainly provide stronger support for victim-survivors and build trust within the institution of the courts and wider criminal justice system. While this is extremely encouraging, it is important to note that there are still key reforms that need urgent attention. Even though we welcome all of the measures put forward in the bill, there are immediate additional changes which could be implemented through the passage of this legislation. I would hope that The Greens' amendments to be moved by my colleague Abigail Boyd in the other place are looked at closely so that we can pass the strongest legislation possible.

There is still so much that can be done to ensure that domestic and family violence is effectively dealt with in our laws and court procedures, particularly when it comes to recognising coercive control as an important precursor to physical violence. We need legislative reforms but we also need systemic change across our community. We need change across our justice system. We need change within front‑line services, particularly police. We need action to deal with the inequality still faced by women in society. We need to recognise the urgency of the domestic and family violence problem. Until we do that, our status as women and our ability to participate fully in society will always be limited.

Along those lines, it is of paramount importance that family and domestic violence services are funded adequately in order to provide crucial support for victim-survivors. I encourage the Government and the Attorney General to ensure that this funding is given the priority it needs because those working in services and the support and advocacy organisations need resources to be able to deliver on the crucial work they do. I urge everybody to look closely at The Greens' amendments in the other place. I commend the work of all of the services and organisations that have done the hard yards to get us to a point where we are seeing this type of legislation. I hope that we see support for The Greens' amendments in the other place to make sure that the bill is as strong as it can be for our communities.

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