16th November 2023 18:02
Victorian Legislative Council, Melbourne

Rachel PAYNE (South-Eastern Metropolitan) (18:05): (604)

My adjournment matter is for the Attorney-General, Minister Symes. I recently attended Respect Victoria’s fifth anniversary event at Parliament House celebrating the progress Respect Victoria have made in the five years since the passage of Victoria’s Prevention of Family Violence Act 2018.

It was great to hear from the minister at this event about all the important work this government is undertaking to lead the nation in preventative reforms, but disturbingly this event happened in the context of the preceding week in which at least five women had been killed by men. These numbers are in stark contrast to the often quoted figure that on average one Australian woman is murdered by a current or former partner every 10 days.

According to Counting Dead Women Australia, the number of lives lost due to violence against women as of 16 November is 48. I had to increase that number from 47 to 48 overnight.

Almost one in four Victorian women have experienced physical or sexual violence by their intimate partner since they were 15, but violence against women is not inevitable. It is preventable. Coercive control is the most common risk factor leading up to an intimate partner homicide. This term captures a wide range of abusive behaviours, including social, financial, psychological and technology-facilitated abuse.

Tasmania has already introduced specific crime offences that cover elements of coercive control. The Queensland government introduced legislation to criminalise it. South Australia is undertaking consultation on draft legislation, and from July 2024 coercive control will be a criminal offence in New South Wales.

Here in Victoria, despite many calls for it, there have been no similar announcements. In late 2021 a motion was passed to call on the government to look into ways to enhance the understanding of coercive and controlling behaviours in our community and the justice system. The action I seek is that the minister commit to undertake consultation with the view of criminalising coercive control.

Written Answer
Received: 6 February 2024
Hon. Jaclyn Symes (Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services)

The Victorian Government is committed to addressing family violence in all forms, including coercive control. We recognise that coercive control is the underpinning dynamic of family violence, that can impinge the autonomy, freedom and dignity of victim survivors.

Coercive control is an incredibly complex and sensitive area of law. Currently, most Victorian experts agree that reducing coercive control to a stand-alone prosecutable offence simplifies the power and control dynamics that are central to understanding a victim-survivor’s experience and creates a higher risk of misidentification of the perpetrator.

Since 2008, the Family Violence Protection Act 2008 has set out coercive control in the ‘preamble’, the ‘purpose’, and is included in the ‘definition’ of family violence under s 5 in the Act.  The Act enables civil and criminal jurisdictions to work in tandem to effectively identify and respond to coercive control.

The 2016 Royal Commission into Family Violence considered a standalone offence noting:

The Commission is of the view that changes to sentencing provisions and the creation of new offences can often have more of a symbolic than practical effect. Whatever laws we have will only be as effective as those who enforce, prosecute and apply them. Improving these practices, through education, training and embedding best practice and family violence specialisation in the courts, is likely to be more effective than simply creating new offences or changing sentencing laws.

Royal Commission into Family Violence (Final Report, March 2016) vol 3, 189

The Royal Commission instead recommended “whole-of-system” response to family violence, which included the introduction of the Multi-Agency Risk Assessment and Management Framework, the Family Violence Information Sharing Scheme, the Central Information Point and Specialist Family Violence Courts. Together these reforms have improved the way our system identifies, prevents and responds to family violence, including coercive control.

To support these reforms, the Victorian Government has invested more than $3.7 billion to improve the prevention and response to family violence. This is more than every other state and territory combined.

Victoria is proud to have worked collaboratively with the Commonwealth and other states and territories to develop National Principles to Address Coercive Control, which were released on 22 September 2023. The National Principles unify all jurisdictions in a commitment to address coercive control and create a shared national understanding of coercive control.

Thank you again for raising this matter.


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