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Family and Personal Violence Bills

Madam Speaker, I am grateful for the opportunity to resume the debate on this important legislation, which the Canberra Liberals will be supporting. The Family Violence and Personal Violence Acts were passed by the ACT Legislative Assembly with unanimous support on the second of August last year and will commence operation on the first of May this year. The Family and Personal Violence Legislation Amendment Bill, which is planned to come into effect on the thirtieth of April 2017, is intended to amend these Acts prior to their commencement. Though we agree with this amendment bill in principle, we will be proposing two small but significant amendments that we believe will strengthen the bill.

The Family and Personal Violence Legislation Amendment Bill 2017 seeks to amend mainly legislation about family and personal violence. The Bill amends three relevant Acts – the Evidence (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1991, the Family Violence Act 2016 and the Personal Violence Act 2016. The purpose of the Bill is to address procedural issues and reduce red tape to facilitate streamlined family violence and personal protection order schemes. The Bill provides support for automatic national recognition of family violence orders under the National Domestic Violence Order scheme as well as registration of foreign orders, and it also brings some additional protections for children and other vulnerable parties to an order.

Notable sections of the Bill include allowing the use of police interview recordings and recorded statements made by police officers as evidence when applying for a protection order under the Family Violence Act. This is an amendment that aims to prevent victims from having to give multiple retellings of the related event and thereby potentially reliving the trauma that they have experienced.

The Bill also restricts circumstances in which children can give evidence in protection order proceedings. These restrictions are consistent with existing provisions in the Children and Young People Act 2008, which require the court to give leave for a child to be called to give evidence as a witness. The court will be required to take a number of considerations into account before granting leave. The court can provide further restrictions relating to the nature of the questions that may be asked in cross-examination to a child, if it is in the best interests of the child.

Additional protection for people with impaired decision-making ability is given in this Bill, namely by requiring a copy of any document served in relation to a domestic or family violence order to be given to a person’s guardian. People with impaired decision-making ability and other vulnerable parties are often at a heightened risk of domestic violence in particular. This amendment will alert a guardian of any application, to ensure they can explain the documents and provide assistance to the person with impaired decision-making ability.

The Bill also makes timeframe amendments in order to resolve procedural issues. The Government was advised that the timeframes are overly restrictive under the current processes, and many of the current precise deadlines for setting return dates and service of protection orders are amended by the Bill to be carried out ‘as soon as practicably’. This amendment will afford both victims and the courts more flexibility in time as needed on a case-by-case basis. Courts will be able to manage responses to family and personal violence effectively and ‘as soon as practicably’.

As I have mentioned previously, the Family Violence Act 2016 has provisions that support the National Domestic Violence Order scheme, which will allow orders to be recognised and enforced across the country. These provisions will commence on the first of May 2017. States and territories participating in the National Domestic Violence Order scheme will be commencing their respective laws on the same date to ensure consistency and to support effective implementation of the scheme as well as certainty and clarity for stakeholders and the community. The ACT is co-operating with other jurisdictions for a national commencement date in late 2017, and the amendments allow the provisions to be commenced by ministerial notice. This is to ensure that all necessary administrative arrangements that support good operation of the scheme have been established in all the participating jurisdictions.

The Bill was developed by the Government in consultation with the courts, community legal centres and support services for victims of violence. We have also reached out to relevant community organisations for input on the Bill and have received some feedback. The result of the feedback received is illustrated by the couple of amendments we will be proposing, which will serve to further protect children and other vulnerable parties.

Madam Speaker, having grown up in a home that was plagued by domestic violence for much of my childhood, I am personally invested in this Bill. From as early as I can remember, my father would regularly hurl verbal abuse at, as well as beat me, my mother and my four siblings. He would use belts, sticks, slippers and whatever household items were at hand, and he would beat us both before and after school. He would often spend his pay on alcohol instead of allowing it to be spent on much-needed food, and when he was not satisfied with the dinner our mum provided, he would beat her again and then go to our rooms after bedtime to wake us up so that he could continue to beat us. We would cry, and then be beaten for crying.

In Tonga, where I was born, there was no practical protection from domestic violence like what my family and I suffered. Culturally, the father is the sole ruler of the household, and no one stands against him on family matters. The violence did not stop when we migrated to Australia, but after some time, my mum was able to leave my father and singlehandedly raise me and my siblings for the rest of our growing-up years. Even then, my father would continue to attempt to visit us. He would bang on our doors every day, screaming and swearing, which would often result in my mother having to call for the police to intervene.

Eventually my father returned to Tonga, and although I was young, domestic violence was a part of my life that I could never forget. It is something that I was determined to never allow to exist in my future family, but I know for many others, family and personal violence is still a reality that we need to protect against.

This is why I am committed to supporting all legislation that supports victims. I am committed to supporting all legislation that enables timely and otherwise efficient processing of protection orders for those who need it. Having been elected as a Member of the ACT Legislative Assembly, I also share a responsibility for ensuring that this Bill, while optimising procedural requirements, still affords adequate protections for victims, especially vulnerable parties such as children and people with disabilities. I am therefore also committed to amending legislation where improvements can be made for the interests of the victims, the interests of the community and the interests of operating effective legal systems – all of which interact with and rely heavily on each other.

I am happy to commend this legislation to the Assembly in general. Thank you.

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