11 February 2021
Ms TRISH DOYLE (Blue Mountains) (11:42): Domestic violence, as many know but many more do not know, is rarely a one-off event. Domestic violence or abuse offences take many shapes and forms. What they have in common is the intention of perpetrators to control and assert power over their victims. As has been stated many times—but is important to repeat—domestic violence usually forms a pattern of behaviour that may include physical, sexual, emotional, psychological, verbal, spiritual, social, financial and material abuse. Some of those behaviours, such as physical abuse, are visible and are easily and clearly identified as abuse. However, there is a range of behaviours that is more subtle and less visible to the victim, her friends and family. These include emotional and verbal abuse, intimidation and other controlling behaviours. In spite of the backlash against a feminist view of domestic violence, abuse is a gendered crime that must be seen through a gendered lens.
The Public Health Association of Australia identifies domestic and family violence as an important public health issue requiring a comprehensive range of public health responses if we are to reduce and eliminate violence. Overwhelmingly, the association says that domestic and family violence is perpetrated by men against women and children. Factors that contribute to violence against women at a social and structural level include broader cultures of violence, including attitudinal support for violence against women. The determinants of domestic and family violence include inequitable power relationships between women and men and adherence to harmful gender stereotypes. What is clear is that domestic and family violence is dangerous and places the lives of women and children at risk. Women and children are at greater risk of harm in their homes, and coercive control is a key behaviour and the most common risk factor.
Again for the record—although it has been repeated many times before in this place—according to the NSW Domestic Violence Death Review Team [DVDRT] report 2015-2017, 77 out of 78 domestic homicides were characterised by the abuser's use of coercive and controlling behaviours towards the victim. We cannot stress that enough. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has undertaken extensive research on domestic and family violence. Its 2017 report identified domestic violence as the leading cause of hospitalisation following physical assault among women and girls. It is a national crime. Nearly 6,500 women and girls in Australia were hospitalised due to assault, with the violence usually perpetrated by a partner or spouse. The data shows that over half of hospitalised assaults against women and girls were perpetrated by spouses or domestic partners, with injuries to the head most common.
When place of occurrence was specified, 69 per cent of assaults against women and girls took place in the home. The 2017-2019 report of the DVDRT identified that a number of its cases were not preceded by an evident history of physical abuse; instead, homicides were preceded by histories of other forms of coercive and controlling behaviour. Victims did not always identify that what they were experiencing was domestic violence or abuse, instead believing their experiences were part of ordinary relationship dynamics. In many cases, the relationship between the perpetrator and victim appeared to be normal from the outside—for instance, to friends and relatives—despite perpetrators using a range of controlling but not physically abusive behaviours against the victim prior to the fatal episode. This appeared to be particularly prevalent in cases involving a murder-suicide.
The Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research also found that emotional abuse is correlated with the future likelihood of physical violence and recommended that this be considered in risk assessment tools as a way of better triaging domestic and family violence matters, and understanding risk. The evidence for the need to expand legislation to include coercive control is overwhelming and this change is long overdue. Between 2000 and 2019, 272 women, 155 men and 103 children lost their lives to domestic violence. I acknowledge the work of the NSW State Coroner and convenor, Magistrate Teresa O'Sullivan, and the NSW Domestic Violence Death Review Team, who have reviewed these horror cases and recorded their findings. I will refer to some of the cases, because we can talk about statistics and about need but it is not until we place the very personal story of a family at the centre of the need for legislation that people seem to sit up and listen.
Case Review 3333 concerned the homicide of Felicity, aged in her 30s, by her former boyfriend Jordan, aged in his 40s, at her home in metropolitan New South Wales. Felicity ended the relationship two months prior to the homicide, and there was no known history of physical violence. Jordan began stalking and threatening Felicity as soon as she ended the relationship. He followed her interstate and to a work conference. Felicity reported Jordan's behaviour to police, but they did not take any action. They could not take action because it was not criminal behaviour. A week later Jordan killed Felicity after following her home from an exercise class. He fatally stabbed her.
Case Review 3743 involved the murder of Sofia, aged in her 50s, by her former boyfriend George, aged in his 60s, at his residence in regional New South Wales. Sofia and George were in a relationship for three years. There was no known history of physical violence prior to the homicide. He owned firearms, though, and had a firearms licence despite a history of mental health issues. George was very controlling of Sofia. He called her constantly, demanding to know her whereabouts. He isolated her from her friends and spread false rumours about her to people in the town. Sofia disclosed to friends that she was very concerned about George having access to firearms. In the weeks prior to the murder Sofia decided to end her relationship with George. In response, George told Sofia he could not live without her and attempted suicide. Shortly afterwards Sofia agreed to see George at his house. She had no plans to reconcile with him and was about to embark on a long holiday overseas. She felt sorry for him. When Sofia attempted to leave George's residence, he shot her in the back and killed her. [Extension of time]
Recently in the House I acknowledged the murder of nurse Gihan "Gigi" Kerollos, a loving mother of three whose life was brutally cut short when she was murdered by her husband as she was leaving work in 2019. Clearly, Gigi was a victim of coercive, controlling behaviours. She deserved to be safe. However, on that particular night the system and the law failed her. I pay tribute to Gigi's children and family whose lives will never be the same. In particular, I thank her son, Paul Kerollos, and her good friend Jackie Crombie who have met me in this Parliament to discuss coercive control. We agreed to honour and remember Gigi, so today I speak her name.
I pay tribute to the workers and advocates in the domestic and family violence sector. The Women's Legal Service NSW, Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia, Domestic Violence NSW and Women's Safety NSW, Women's Electoral Lobby and the Australian Services Union, all of whom have undertaken reviews of current legislation—or the lack thereof—and proposed reforms. Others, such as Women's Health NSW, have participated in consultation discussions. They hold a variety of positions on the need for coercive control legislation. However, they are very clear on the need for a new approach that recognises the many facets and characteristics of domestic violence, and the need to ensure the safety of women and children.
Over recent years many have reached out to support coercive control legislation as an important first step in acknowledging the need for recognition of the harms of coercive control and its links with escalating domestic violence and homicides. Recent research by Women's Safety NSW quantified women's experience of coercive control: 100 per cent of survivors experienced emotional and psychological abuse, and 86 per cent experienced financial abuse. The research confirmed that non‑physical forms of domestic violence can be just as detrimental as physical violence and will often entrench offenders' control over victim‑survivors.
Conversations with the sector have deliberated on the best way forward. Liz Snell from the Women's Legal Service NSW comes back to the need to focus on patterns of violence, including non‑physical violence. An incident in isolation may seem insignificant, but its significance emerges when viewed in the context of a pattern of ongoing violence. A focus on context and identifying the person most in need of protection are key to ensuring the primary or predominant victim is not misidentified as the primary or predominant aggressor. A significant education campaign and training strategy needs to be rolled out alongside legal reforms. This includes information and awareness raising in the wider community about the harm caused by coercive control, the legal reforms, and what that means to women and children and their families. Training will be needed for the domestic violence, health, women's health, education and other sectors.
There will need to be reviews of the many policies, protocols and tools currently in operation to reflect this change. Police and the judiciary, who are at the front line of responses to domestic violence, will need particular training. I acknowledge the work undertaken by my colleague the member for Shellharbour, and I thank her for bringing this private member's bill to the House and for recognising Preethi Reddy and her family. I thank my colleague Paul Lynch, the member for Liverpool and shadow Attorney General, for his gentleness, intellect, work, collegiality and wisdom. Across the Chamber, I recognise the efforts of the Attorney General, and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence for recognising the critical need to do something about this scourge on society. We have dragged him to the table, figuratively speaking, to discuss criminalising coercive control—but here we are. The comprehensive work of the Joint Select Committee on Coercive Control is important. I appreciate the Minister's establishment of that committee, which includes members from across the political spectrum.
I acknowledge the work on this issue in the other place by the Hon. Penny Sharpe, the Hon. Adam Searle, the Hon. Rose Jackson, Ms Abigail Boyd, the Hon. Natalie Ward and the Hon. Emma Hurst, particularly. I honour the brave efforts of those who have come before us—those women who have worked bravely in a less than progressive place but who have nonetheless walked the tough journey of reform. I name just a few of them: former MLCs Helen Westwood, Meredith Burgmann and the late Ann Symonds; former MPs Barbara Perry, Kristina Keneally and Carmel Tebbutt; and my colleague, dear friend and powerhouse in the Federal space Tanya Plibersek. I thank the brilliant former Prime Minister Julia Gillard for her bravery. I also acknowledge and respect Linda Burney, Jenny McAllister, Dr Anne Aly and the late fabulous Susan Ryan. To all the children who are victim‑survivors of horrors—like I was—we hear your voices and see your pain. We are changing the world—slowly, but we are making change for the next generations. Here's to reform!
Labor supports legislation to criminalise coercive control. As shadow Minister for Women and the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence, I am proud to speak to my colleague's bill. I finish by noting an Instagram post that went up just over a year ago. A very strong and courageous Hannah Clarke was finally finding her feet after leaving her husband. She wrote:
I am a Strong Woman, I don't sit around feeling sorry for myself nor will I ever let anyone mistreat me again. I don't respond to people who dictate to me or try to bring me down. I am a survivor not a victim. I am in control of my life and there is nothing I can't achieve. My girls will grow up being strong women who understand their worth.
But they did not have that chance. That is why we have brought this bill to the House. Here's to reform! I commend the bill to the House.
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 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 sends shivers down my spine and makes me feel proud to be a member of this place, but I was watching the proceedings from my office and felt genuinely proud. 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 past 12 months where they have suspected this kind of behaviour from 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 the dignity in death that was not afforded 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 the complex area of law means that consultation and input from experts, stakeholders and victim-survivors need 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 for 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.