Royal Commission into Family Violence

EXTRACT FROM PARLIAMENTARY DEBATES HANSARD

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

ROYAL COMMISSION INTO FAMILY VIOLENCE

Mr WELLS (Rowville) — I rise to join the debate on the motion to take note of the report of the Royal Commission into Family Violence. There is no question that family violence is a scourge in our community, and it is the same scourge right across the world. There have been significant advances by Victoria Police over the years, which is a good, positive thing, and I pay great credit to previous chief commissioners Neil Comrie, Christine Nixon and Ken Lay and previous assistant commissioner Reg Baker, all of whom have done a mountain of work in regard to combating family violence.

It is hard to believe that 40 per cent of all assaults take place in the family home. As has been mentioned over and over again, it is hard to believe that a man could hit a woman, someone he is supposed to love and respect. I just cannot fathom it; I cannot understand it. We have a situation where at the end of 2010 there were 37 393 cases reported to Victoria Police, and just five years later, at the end of 2015, that number had increased to 74 000. It doubled in five years.

When you look at the raw numbers, you think, ‘My goodness, that’s just outrageous’, but there is more to it — that is, that Victoria Police has changed the way that it operates and that more women are prepared to come forward, and that is such a good, positive thing. I remember having to release crime stats and people being super critical about an increase in the numbers. But when you break it down, if you are getting women to come forward because they feel confident enough to report it, that is good and positive. We all say that the events should not take place in the first place, but Victoria Police can only act when women have the courage to come forward and report abuse. In Parliament last year Rosie Batty and other people spoke. That was a very moving day, but more importantly they were there to make a difference, and that was such a positive step forward.

I thank the royal commissioners for the work they have done. It is an outstanding report, but what I think is disappointing is that it did not support Clare’s law or implement a similar register. I hope that the minister and the Premier can at least continue to look at Clare’s law and what is happening in the UK, which has been evaluated a number of times, look at what is happening in New South Wales, where they are starting to implement it, and look at the New Zealand experience, because I think it is a really important step, and that is what I want to focus a lot of my time on in my presentation today.

On page 145 of the royal commission report, where it talks about a perpetrator register, it says that:

A register for perpetrators is being considered by other jurisdictions in Australia. The commission is of the view that a perpetrator register scheme should not proceed in Victoria at this time —

and it outlines a number of reasons. One of the reasons is that:

The effect of such a scheme on increasing women’s safety has not been demonstrated.

I question that. It goes further to say:

There has been very limited evaluation of similar schemes, although the UK scheme —

has been evaluated. It talks about the scheme being ‘potentially costly’ and ‘usually limited to those perpetrators who have a criminal history’, but it does acknowledge that ‘this could be changed’.

The point is that I think that the perpetrator register does work well in the UK. The basis of the register is whether women have the right to know about the criminal past of their new partner. Today we live in a different world — Facebook, dating services, eHarmony, RSVP. People are hooking up on the internet not knowing anything about the past of that particular person. I have to say, as the father of a 19‑year‑old daughter, I would want to know — because she should know — about the past of a new partner, especially one that she has met on the internet.

When it comes to the protection of our family violence victims, I think that we can learn a lot from the UK. With the introduction of Clare’s law in the UK, the domestic violence disclosure scheme now means that police can proactively advise people, mostly women, who are seen to be at risk. That law enables people to be fully informed of relevant police information at hand and allows them to check whether their new partner has a record of violence or an abusive past. Since the implementation it has been reported that 1000 women have escaped abusive or potentially abusive partners as a direct result of the implementation of Clare’s law. I think Victoria Police is reasonably supportive of the implementation of Clare’s law and is looking at the UK’s success.

Clare’s law is named after 36‑year‑old Clare Wood, who was murdered in February 2009 by her ex‑boyfriend, whom she met on Facebook. Clare did not know her partner had a history of violence against women. After Clare was murdered her father spearheaded a campaign, which was a ‘right to know’ campaign, to introduce the new disclosure law. He firmly believed that his daughter would still be alive today had she known about the criminal past of violence of her partner.

The UK experience reveals that, with the growth of the online dating services that are available, people are entering into relationships with absolutely no knowledge of their partner’s past. When I was there working with the UK police and sitting in watching the UK police, a live case actually came in. In this particular case a friend of a woman contacted police and said, ‘There is something not right about this new partner of my friend’. The police did a check and found that this person had been in prison because of serious violence towards women. They did the investigation. The police assessed the information and decided that the woman needed to know this information. That is what she needed to know: he had been in prison because of violence towards women.

They called the woman in. The woman at the start was reluctant, because she did not know what the police wanted to talk to her about. The police sat the woman down and told her of the criminal past of her new partner. She was obviously shaken. She was very, very upset and sought counselling about how to end the relationship. That could have gone either way, but she was determined to end the relationship. It was a good outcome and obviously her friends gathered around her to be able to support her in what she was doing.

I know others want to speak, so I would just like to say I think that the royal commission has done an outstanding report. Congratulations to the responsible minister. As I said, I hope that the minister and the Premier are able to take on board my concerns in regard to the implementation of Clare’s law, because I think it is that one step further where women have the right to know, and need to know, when they are entering into a new relationship with a new partner.