Coercive Control - Preethi's Law Bill 2020
(Bills - Second Reading Debate, March 18 2021, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
Our society has failed to deal with family and domestic violence.
Rates of partner, former partner and child abuse remain shockingly high, with the number of murders horrifying. The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that one in six women over the age of 15 has experienced physical or sexual violence from a current or previous cohabiting partner and ACON estimates that one in three LGBT+ people experience violence from a partner, ex‑partner or family member. Family and domestic violence has serious lifelong impacts on health, wellbeing, education, employment, relationships and housing outcomes. It goes beyond physical and sexual violence and often involves a range of behaviours aimed at inciting fear, cementing power and control over someone, and crushing their confidence. Coercive control includes controlling access to finances, monitoring movements and isolating a person from their friends and family.
Coercive behaviours often occur slowly and build up over time. In LGBT+ relationships it can take unique forms through identity‑based abuse, including coercive actions to pressure someone to conform to gender norms, undergo surgery they do not want, or threaten to out their LGBT+ status. We need to address the broader framework of coercive behaviours if we are going to keep people safe. I support the introduction of a new offence of coercive control. It would fill a gap in punishing some of the sinister behaviours exerted over partners and family members. A new offence would provide an important opportunity for early intervention to help people leave abusive relationships before they escalate into violence. I commend the member for Shellharbour for introducing the Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Amendment (Coercive Control—Preethi's Law) Bill 2020, which will make coercive control a criminal offence. I also commend the Attorney General for his commitment to reform through consultation, including through the joint select committee process. An informed and consultative approach is needed.
Any new offence must not create new risks that could see victims and survivors charged. The new offence must not provide a loophole for perpetrators to target victims and survivors, and should exclude dysfunctional relationships that are not coercive. It should be sensitive to LGBT+ relationships, in which police and services often report difficulty determining the primary aggressor. Extensive consultation with the domestic and family violence sector will help address these matters. I note that Domestic Violence NSW is calling for the introduction of a civil offence while further work on drafting a criminal offence proceeds. New South Wales police will require training, with input from the sector when an offence is introduced.
Not all people who experience domestic and family violence will go through the criminal justice system, and that system will never be the silver bullet to ending this form of abuse. We need a fully funded domestic and family violence sector to ensure that people impacted receive effective specialist support. The priority for funding should be primary prevention and early intervention programs, and services and education campaigns to stop violence before it starts and achieve cultural change. The Government should work collaboratively with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and organisations to address the impact of domestic and family violence on their communities. New dedicated social housing is essential. We still lack safe and appropriate temporary housing for women and children seeking to flee a violent partner. Because most women with children will not sleep rough, they may not get priority for social housing. Almost 28,000 people sought housing assistance in the last financial year due to family and domestic violence, and the majority of homelessness service clients are women and children escaping domestic violence—about 38 per cent of all clients.
Everyone deserves to feel safe and have autonomy over their life. Cultural change towards respect for all, regardless of their sex, gender, LGBT+ status, marital status or age, is key. We should start by addressing the laws and social structures that foster discrimination, such as allowing gay teachers to be sacked, not giving trans and gender diverse people up-to-date birth certificates and excluding women from senior positions of power. Current gender biases help perpetrators of abuse justify these actions. We have seen, with the recent exposés in schools, how sexist, misogynistic and sexually predatory behaviour can start young. On Monday I joined women and people of all genders from across Sydney to call for more work to protect women and people who are gender diverse from violence and sexual assault in their homes, workplaces, schools and the public domain. We must make more progress in this space. I thank the member for Shellharbour for bringing this important matter to the House. I will not oppose the bill.