Bill Speech: Prevention of Family Violence Bill 2018

Ros SPENCE (Yuroke) (12:24:06) — I am very pleased to rise today to make a contribution on the Prevention of Family Violence Bill 2018. In doing so at the outset I would like to acknowledge the great work of the Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence, who is at the table, and also the former minister, the late Fiona Richardson.

This bill will establish the new independent family violence prevention agency called Respect Victoria, it will ensure a statewide focus on primary prevention over the long term and it will deliver on recommendation 188 of the Royal Commission into Family Violence. Recommendation 188 is for the establishment of prevention architecture to oversee the prevention of family violence in this state, to provide policy and technical advice to the government and the community, to coordinate research to build evidence around all forms of family violence prevention and to build organisational and workforce capacity to ensure we can prevent family violence over time.

The royal commission recommended that the existing focus on crisis response and the justice system be matched by a similar focus on and investment in prevention and that this focus and investment be dedicated and enduring over time. So the bill, in establishing Respect Victoria in legislation, will ensure that we do work towards a Victoria where all Victorians experience equality and respect in their relationships, are empowered and respected at home and everywhere and are supported in their relationships to reach their full potential. Establishing Respect Victoria as a statutory authority enshrined in legislation will set Victoria on the path to achieving the dedicated and enduring focus that is needed, and it aligns with the Victorian government’s long‑term prevention strategy, Free from Violence.

The Royal Commission into Family Violence made it clear that the family violence response sector is overwhelmed. This has also been made clear by victims and their families as well as the broader community. This pressure can be seen across all areas of family violence victim support. One local example of this pressure on the sector that I am very aware of is the increased demand for legal assistance. We often hear about the pressure in housing, in financing and in counselling, but there is enormous pressure on the legal sector in providing legal assistance.

In my community, the Northern Community Legal Centre (NCLC) provides a free intervention order support service on Monday and Thursday mornings at Broadmeadows Magistrates Court. This service, in 2015, was staffed by a family violence duty lawyer, and at the time they were funded for three days a week. This position and the services provided by the NCLC are vital to providing information to intervention order applicants and to providing legal support to those who lack the means to access commercial lawyers. However, there really is a concern that those in need are not all able to access this support and that the NCLC is not able to keep up with this increasing demand.

The family violence duty lawyer position there commenced in 2007, and at that time it was funded for one day a week. As a volunteer solicitor, I assisted that service on Friday mornings at Broadmeadows Magistrates Court. It went from providing services one morning a week at court with a one‑day‑a‑week family violence duty lawyer to involving a three‑days‑a‑week staffed lawyer position, with two mornings required at the court. I have spoken to the lawyers who are doing that work now, and they are absolutely flat out. There has also been such an increase in the number of people who are presenting to the service with family violence or related cases that these now comprise the greatest proportion of the centre’s workload, and that is quite concerning.

There is much debate about this increase. It is quite a dilemma for me. There are more people presenting for assistance, and on the one hand people say that is great because that actually means that more people are coming out, seeking help and getting out of dangerous circumstances, and that is a positive — we are very pleased that that is happening — but on the other hand there is no way of knowing the quantum of increased incidents that make up that greater number of people presenting. I hope that over time that dilemma can be solved, because it is of great concern. We just do not know what the additional incidence is.

But what we do know is that addressing the drivers of family violence through primary prevention is the only way that the overall prevalence of violence, and therefore the demand for these response services, can be reduced, and this really must happen. This has been abundantly clear in recent times. We have all seen the daily news reports which include more and more instances of family violence and, frankly, its fatal consequences. But violence against women and children is not new. The understanding that this is a gendered issue is not new. The knowledge that family violence has its roots in flawed perceptions of privilege, entitlement, power, control and above all disrespect is not new. What is new is that we are prepared to confront this national disgrace head‑on, to call it out for what it is, to investigate the extent, the effect and the appropriate response and to do all that we can to save the lives of women and children and create a cultural shift to zero tolerance of family violence.

Thanks largely to anti‑violence advocates such as Rosie Batty, many others have found the strength to stand up and speak out. These conversations continue to grow and to come out of the dark spaces and into public spaces. Family violence is no longer discussed in hushed whispers. It is no longer the almost taboo conversation that I witnessed as a volunteer solicitor only a decade ago at Broadmeadows Magistrates Court. Family violence discussions are now heard loud and clear in the public outcries that enough is enough. While it is a massive leap forward that more and more people are talking about the need to address this scourge on our society, there is much more that needs to be done, and investment in prevention is a key priority.

The bill establishes Respect Victoria as an independent agency that can influence social norms, shape community attitudes and allow Victoria to be a role model for positive change in family violence prevention and gender equality. The bill puts in place the functions and roles for Respect Victoria to support the government to build evidence about what works to prevent family violence, and it will coordinate activities and provide expert advice on best practice. It will drive communication and engagement with the community to change the culture that allows family violence to happen in the first place, and it will lead research into what works to prevent family violence before it starts.

This cultural change is vital. This was evident at the family violence community forum that I co‑hosted with the member for Broadmeadows in 2015. The late minister Fiona Richardson attended that forum along with around 150 people representing the many culturally and linguistically diverse groups within the community. One strong message from that forum was that appropriate preventative responses to family violence need to recognise and address the causes of family violence, such as gender inequality and attitudes towards women.

It was disturbing to hear from several attendees at the community forum that gender stereotypes are still playing a major role for young people, with adolescent male culture dominated by macho attitudes and hitting out considered to be a manly display. Now, these are not my views; these are the views that were expressed to us at that forum. It was also reported by some attendees there that are involved in the education sector that some young men hold gender inequality views whereby men do not clean and cook or men are considered smarter and generally better at most activities. One male attendee at the forum remarked, ‘Being violent is too easy as a young man’. These are incredibly disturbing sentiments to hear from members of the community.

These attitudes towards women, about what it means to be a man and about gender inequality need to change, and the response needs to be formalised. A cultural change needs to take place at home, at school, in the workplace and in the community. Family violence needs to be seen as a universally unacceptable and whole‑of‑community problem, but the response needs to be driven and it needs to be coordinated, and that is what Respect Victoria will do. While there is no quick fix and there is no single answer yet to prevent or respond to family violence — and there are many issues that need to be addressed — I believe that we are finally on the right track. So much is being done to finally address gender inequality and family violence. We cannot let the momentum stop. As others have previously commented, the late minister Fiona Richardson was passionate about prevention being key to preventing family violence and to getting prevention right. I hope that this bill has that effect, and I commend it to the house.