DOMESTIC VIOLENCE LEGISLATION
Matter of Public Interest
Discussion resumed from an earlier hour.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE [5.3]: The Call to Australia group supports the report of the New South Wales Domestic Violence Committee and the domestic violence strategic plan. My wife and I have been concerned about the availability of services for victims of domestic violence after normal working hours, or at weekends, when the majority of incidents of domestic violence seem to occur. We have had practical experience of people seeking assistance late in the evening. The report recommends that further studies should be conducted into the cause of domestic violence with the intention of introducing programs of prevention. Further research should be conducted into the causes of domestic violence and necessary remedial action should be taken. Victims of domestic violence who have sought help have indicated that a large percentage of such incidents of domestic violence have occurred late at night when a husband returns home severely affected by alcohol. Honourable members should bear in mind that alcohol can
turn a normally placid husband into a violent punching and kicking machine who will not listen to his wife or respond to any of her pleas. She then becomes the victim of his violence.
My wife asked me to include in my remarks a reference to the fact that a number of women experiencing domestic violence have described to her events that have not received much attention or publicity. Some of these women have indicated that their husbands have been influenced by the violence portrayed in pornographic videos. Some husbands force their wives to watch these violent videos and then perpetrate that violence, or carry out actions similar to those portrayed in the videos. As a result, women are severely distressed and domestic violence results. Efforts to contain the increase in the incidence of domestic violence should include important matters such as the use of firearms and the effect of alcohol and violent pornographic videos. The Call to Australia group supports the recommendations found on page 15 of the report under the heading "Law and Administrative Reform". The Minister for Education and Youth Affairs, and Minister for Employment and Training, who was responsible for this area, indicated earlier that a number of these recommendations were being studied with a view to their implementation over a period. We believe recommendation 2.2.1 is important:
These options are listed on page 15 of the report:
After-hours, weekends, holiday periods and infrequent sittings of country courts inhibit access to immediate protection in urgent cases. Provision should be made for expeditiously issuing interim orders.
1. Interim orders should be able to be obtained by telephone from a duty magistrate;
2. Chamber Magistrates should be empowered to make interim orders . . .
3. Interim orders should be able to be issued on the spot by police officers, valid until the next sitting of the court. This is the preferred option of the Police Service for providing immediate protection.
We support the other recommendations listed on page 19 of the report in respect of the provision of after-hours services. My wife and I have had experience of this in seeking to help victims of domestic violence. One of these recommendations reads:
4. Telephone warrants should be able to be obtained for Apprehended Violence Orders after-hours.
In New South Wales there are very few services which operate to provide crisis intervention, besides the police and health services; telephone counselling is provided by non-government agencies, generally volunteers. None of these services is yet trained or equipped to respond appropriately to domestic violence. While it is recognised that training must be made available to such agencies, the issue of accessible, accurate and expert information and advice is critical if women are to be enabled to obtain protection and make informed choices. This information must also be available to workers faced with the problem of domestic violence.
The recommendations specifically include the following:
As crisis intervention must be the role of police officers when called to a domestic violence situation, it is defined as one of appropriate and immediate action to arrest and remove the perpetrator if an offence has occurred and to initiate proceedings for an Apprehended Violence Order where there is a risk of further violence, harassment or threat.
An extended-hours 008 telephone information, advice and referral service should be established, funded by the Department of Community Services.
Page 20 of the report includes a list of these matters. There is also concern that on occasions when victims of domestic violence have reported their cases to the police, and their fear that even further violence will occur, action has not been taken. I know that has occurred in the past. We have been told that this situation has changed with the training of the police and their consequent handling of domestic violence cases, but in some tragic cases, even following reports to the police, a victim of domestic violence was either further brutally attacked or even murdered by the perpetrator of that domestic violence. The Call to Australia group supports recommendations 3.4 and 3.5 which state:
To ensure safety, protection, confidentiality and access, the success and effectiveness of such a service will require:
3.4 After-hours and on-call Mental Health teams should only be used for crisis intervention in domestic violence where the victims or perpetrators are their clients.
Further publicity campaigns are required so that the victims of domestic violence are made aware of their rights, what action should be taken and where help can be obtained.
The Hon. I. M. MACDONALD [5.11]: Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile referred in his speech to a matter of importance in relation to this issue. This Government has not provided proper gun laws for the State. In fact, it has sucked up to the gun lobby and has created a situation where, in many instances of domestic violence, guns are used. It is about time - [Time expired.]
The Hon. JAN BURNSWOODS [5.12], in reply: I thank all those honourable members who have participated in this debate. I express regret that we did not hear more words of wisdom from the Hon. I. M. Macdonald. Almost all those honourable members who participated in the debate have agreed explicitly about the importance of the issue and the importance of more being done to address the problem of domestic violence in New South Wales. I wish to make a couple of corrections. The Minister for Education and Youth Affairs, and Minister for Employment and Training referred to the fact that the figures in respect of domestic violence are extrapolated from the records of apprehended violence orders. It is true that since 1990 a regulation has provided that police record those figures separately. I was not saying that it could not be done but that nowhere are those figures published. The police do not publish them; the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research does not publish them. The only way to obtain access to those figures is to ask a question in Parliament. The figures I read out came from information provided in answer to a question on notice. It would be very simple to ensure that the sort of data to which I referred was available publicly rather than only to a member of Parliament.
The second correction I make is this: the Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti, in his contribution, referred to the fact that charges being laid by the police occurred only after this Government assumed office. I draw the attention of the honourable member to the domestic violence information manual which points out that the proportion of police-laid charges to victim-laid charges increased from 56.6 per cent in 1980 to 87.7 per cent in 1987, following changes in police policy from 1983 onwards. The manual makes the point that, largely due to the increase in the number of police-laid charges, there was a striking decrease in the number of domestic violence cases which were withdrawn. I too thank my colleagues such as the Hon. Ann Symonds for drawing attention to some of the myths which continue to surround this issue, in particular the myths suggesting that domestic violence is a class issue rather than a gender issue. The honourable member addressed that issue very well. She also addressed a point which continues to be raised, namely, that we cannot legislate to change attitudes. Sometimes the suggestion is made that we should throw up our hands because it is all a matter of attitudes and thinking, so what can we do.
The history of legislation in the domestic violence area and in the whole area of discrimination, and in other areas concerning women, particularly during the period of the Wran Government in New South Wales, has shown that a great deal can be done to change attitudes either by education or by discrimination legislation. I reject the council of despair that suggests that these attitudes are ingrained and can never be changed. I believe they can be changed, and implementation of the sorts of recommendations made in the strategic plan, which is now some 15 months old, would go a long way towards improving the situation. Again I call on the Government to stop ignoring the plan, to stop making pious statements about what it has done. The Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti read the former Premier's statement to the effect that he would implement the recommendations contained in this report. I hope that his successor as Premier and the current Minister Assisting the Premier on these matters will actually do something and put their money where their mouths are.
Discussion of matter of public interest concluded.
3.5 After-hours available of interpreters for police for domestic violence and child protection matters must be made widely known.