10 November 2020

Dr MARJORIE O'NEILL (Coogee) (16:38:53): I welcome the opportunity to speak on the incredibly important Stronger Communities Legislation Amendment (Domestic Violence) Bill 2020. Domestic violence is a horrific scourge that affects our society—one that no electorate in New South Wales is exempt from. My own community in the eastern suburbs is no exception, with one domestic violence counselling service in the eastern suburbs reporting a 110 per cent increase in demand for support since the beginning of this year. In Australia an average of one woman each week is murdered by a current or former partner and one in four women from the age of 15 has experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner. Intimate partner violence is a leading contributor to illness, disability and premature death for women aged 18 to 44. Figures released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show that hospitalisations due to domestic, family and sexual violence are increasing. Domestic violence liaison officers in my electorate advise me that it is rare for them to work a shift without at least one presentation or callout in relation to domestic abuse. Indeed, there is often more than one incident in a shift.

Often, perpetrators of domestic violence go unpunished due to daunting processes that survivors of domestic violence must complete. One such process is attending court. Due to the intimate relationships between victims and perpetrators of domestic violence and the nature of the crime itself, victims of domestic violence can feel hesitant to report domestic violence in the first place, and then feel intimidated into ceasing cooperation with prosecutions once the process has begun. Any legislation that makes this process easier for survivors of domestic violence is a good step forward. As discussed by other members in this place, the bill will introduce two provisions to the Criminal Procedure Act 1986 that aim to make these processes less daunting and provide greater support to victims of domestic and family violence.

Firstly, these amendments implement an entitlement for a domestic violence complainant to give evidence in a closed court, which is currently reserved for when the accused has been charged with a prescribed sexual offence or if the complainant is a child or is cognitively impaired. Requiring a victim of domestic or family violence to give evidence of a deeply personal and traumatic event or series of events in front of a public gallery, which can often include family and friends of the accused, can be extremely intimidating and can add trauma to that which the victim already faces. Given the private and intimate nature of the crime of domestic and family abuse and violence, this is a commonsense reform that will bring the treatment of domestic violence in line with other forms of intimate violence.

Further, the amendments provide an option for victims of domestic and family violence to give evidence remotely via an audiovisual link or similar technology or via alternative arrangements, including a seating plan or the use of a screen. All of these steps will make the court process easier and less stressful for victims of domestic and family violence and will build on the existing entitlements available for other vulnerable victims and witnesses. The bill also creates new jury warnings, where the court must warn the jury that the absence of a complaint or a delay in complaining does not necessarily indicate that the allegation that the offence was committed is false. The court must also inform the jury that there may be good reasons why a victim of domestic violence may hesitate to make or refrain from making a complaint about a domestic violence offence, and must not warn the jury that delay in making a complaint is relevant to a victim's credibility unless there is sufficient evidence to justify such a warning.

The bill makes changes to the protection provisions provided by apprehended domestic violence orders [ADVOs]. It ensures that court‑ordered ADVOs in a case where the defendant is sentenced to a term of imprisonment remain in force for two years longer than the sentence that was imposed, while still ensuring that the court retains the discretion to order a different period for the ADVO if appropriate. The bill also makes provisions that strengthen the Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Act to include within the definition of intimidation harm or threats of harm to animals belonging to or in the possession of protected persons. As I am sure members in this place know, threatening, injuring, or killing family pets can be a tactic used by abusive partners to control their victims in the context of domestic violence, but this behaviour is not referenced in the Act.

Together, these amendments make commonsense reforms to the way in which the legal system manages and processes accusations of domestic and family violence and the subsequent legal proceedings. The reforms make those processes less overwhelming and less traumatic for survivors of domestic and family violence, which should always be the goal of policy in this area. If this bill is passed in tandem with the bill criminalising coercive control that Labor has introduced, it represents a significant milestone in the prevention of domestic and family abuse and violence in New South Wales. I commend the bill to the House.