Danny O’BRIEN (Gippsland South) (14:54): I am not pleased to rise to speak on this legislation. I do not think any of us are ever happy to be introducing new laws to deal with the scourge of our society in family violence. I put that very clumsily, but we all wish that we did not have to be passing this sort of legislation. It is something that is, as I said, a scourge on our society and something that I grapple with – that we cannot deal with it better, not because of government, state or federal, or programs that are put in place; the issue basically stems back to the community, particularly to men in the main. And all the goodwill, education, training and legislation in the world will not stop this unless men actually stop committing violence against women.
I am a very, very proud Gippslander. I am proud to live where I do. I am proud of what we produce. I am proud of what our people do. But I am absolutely aghast to learn from the most recent statistics that Latrobe City and the East Gippsland and Wellington shires were all in the top four for family violence in Victoria. That is something I am not proud of when it comes to being a Gippslander. Of course, whatever the statistics, someone has always got to be on the top, but that is not something that we want. I commend the work of Gippsland Women’s Health for what they do and many other agencies throughout the region. But Gippsland Women’s Health in particular are running the Let’s Chat Gippsland campaign, a period of 16 days of activism starting on 25 November, and it is something that we all need to do better on. I think the statistics are still one woman killed every week due to family violence in Australia and police attending a family violence incident once every 6 minutes in Victoria, and that is just abominable. As I say, I do not think the solution is government. Sure, government and Parliament play a role, but our community has to do much better on this issue.
But it is important of course that government does its part and provides the legislation, the legal framework, that not only addresses family violence and not only provides punishment for perpetrators of family violence but also sends a message, and in many respects that is what this legislation, the Crimes Amendment (Non-fatal Strangulation) Bill 2023 does. It is about sending a message that the community will not tolerate this sort of violent behaviour towards predominantly women – it is not only women – and that there needs to be a message sent to the community and to perpetrators but also to police, the courts and others that this scourge needs to be tackled in as many different ways as possible. We have this legislation that has largely been driven by the case, sadly, of Joy Rowley. As the member for Malvern indicated, this really should be known as Joy’s law in many respects, because it was the tragic death of Joy in 2011 that has effectively precipitated this legislation, and it came after a long campaign by her family, her children in particular. There was a coronial finding by Judge Sara Hinchey in 2018 that recommended the introduction of this law. Judge Hinchey said at the time:
Such an offence will more effectively hold perpetrators to account for serious offending. Further, the new offence may build further awareness of the dangers and potential lethality of strangulation among police members, courts and community services practitioners.
As I indicated a moment ago, it is partly about sending that message. If you read the story of Joy, you will find a series of failures that the police ultimately acknowledged in not picking up some of the issues, in particular where her former partner did grab her around the throat and literally caused her to become unconscious and then subsequently at a later time actually murdered her. I guess the dividend, if there is any such positive to come out of that tragic event, is that the Parliament is acting. I pay credit to the family for continuing to act on this, and we will now see effectively Joy’s law introduced through this legislation, because the opposition is certainly not opposing this bill.
There are a number of aspects to it. I will not go into the level of detail that the member for Malvern has already done in highlighting the various aspects of the bill, but it does contain some curious clauses, I guess, in the sense that the non-fatal strangulation in the legislation will only apply to a family member as defined in the Family Violence Protection Act 2008. That definition is current or former spouses; domestic partners; intimate personal relationships, which do not have to be sexual in nature; children and parents, including stepchildren and step-parents; other relatives in some circumstances; and any other person reasonably regarded as being like a family member. The member for Malvern highlighted the example that has been given whereby in a nightclub situation a person who strangles their partner on the dance floor could be charged under these offences, but a person who is merely attempting to woo another person and then is knocked back and also strangles them would not be charged. That is not to say they could not be charged with other offences, but it does lead to something of an anomaly in that respect – that it does only relate to families. Sexual Assault Services Victoria indeed has said that excluding people who experience strangulation outside a family relationship from the avenue of protection afforded by non-fatal strangulation laws essentially creates a second class of people and sends a mixed message to the community about strangulation. It will mean that people – overwhelmingly women – will receive a different response depending on whether they are assaulted by a family member or by someone else.
That is certainly true of this bill. In part, again as the member for Malvern has indicated, that is due to the very broad nature of the definition of strangulation that is contemplated by the legislation. Because of that, we could potentially see, if we did not have the family restriction in respect of this bill, much wider interpretation and application of it to many, many circumstances where it may not indeed be appropriate. Whether the government has got that balance right and whether it will work in practice is I guess yet to be seen, so we will see what happens in that respect.
That brings me to the amendment moved by the member for Malvern. He has quite rightly suggested that given that this is novel legislation here in Victoria, that it is the first time something such as this has been introduced with respect to strangulation, there actually should be a review period. He has suggested that the bill be amended to include a two-year statutory review, so a review two years after the bill comes into operation, and for that to occur within six months of that two-year period passing and then to be tabled in Parliament for all to see. I do not think that is something that the government should be rejecting. Obviously, we will deal with the in the other place, but it is not something that any government really should be afraid of, having a review of legislation. We see in both the family violence space but also justice generally that we are tweaking legislation repeatedly, whether it is bail laws or whether it is youth justice. Many of the other bills that we have debated this year indeed are often dealt with again only a year or two afterwards. So I would encourage the government to support that amendment. It is a simple thing, and I hope that all members in the other place will also agree to it.
This is hopefully a step in the right direction. It is another step in the government, the Parliament and the community’s attempts to end the scourge of family violence, and I wish it speedy passage through the chambers.