Thursday, 18 February 2021
Resolutions of the Senate
Family and Domestic Violence; Consideration of Senate Message
I have received the following message from the Senate transmitting a resolution agreed to by the Senate relating to violence against women:
That the Senate—
(1) notes that:
(a) 19 February 2021 marks one year since the murder of Hannah Clarke and her three children;
(b) since that date a further 52 women have been killed by violence in Australia; and
(c) coercive control and persistent emotional or psychological abuse is abuse in its own right, and a strong indicator of future physical violence;
(2) further notes that:
(a) Tasmania has had laws criminalising emotional and financial abuse and coercive control since 2004;
(b) Western Australia recently introduced a new offence of persistent family violence, recognising patterns of emotional and psychological abuse;
(c) New South Wales is currently consulting on draft laws to criminalise coercive control; and
(d) Queensland and the Northern Territory have announced plans to criminalise coercive control; and
(3) calls on the Government to:
(a) recognise the harm caused by persistent controlling behaviour; and
(b) coordinate a national discussion regarding criminalising coercive control and related implementation support.
The Senate requests the concurrence of the House of Representatives in this resolution.
Ordered that the message be considered immediately.
I am pleased to speak today in support of this motion passed by the Senate and put forward by the Parliamentarians for Action to Reduce Violence Against Women and Children—a cross-party group convened by the Leader of the Australian Greens in the Senate, Senator Waters, the member for Cowan and the member for Reid.
One year ago, Hannah Clarke and her three children, Aaliyah, Laianah and Trey, were murdered by Hannah's former partner, their children's father. He ambushed them on their way to school, poured petrol in the car and set the car on fire. It was an event so shocking it grabbed the attention of the public and politicians. It forced a conversation about what family violence looks like, how insidious it is and how critical it is we act to keep women and children safe. Since Hannah's murder, a further 52 women have been violently killed. Violence against women is a national crisis and we need to treat it that way.
Too often as a society we have viewed family violence as a physical act, ignoring the harm caused by non-physical abuse—when a partner, most often the man, exerts power and control through restricting access to finances, isolating women from friends and family, monitoring movements, belittling them in front of their children, controlling everything about their lives and threatening to harm them or their kids if they leave. These patterns of controlling behaviour, coercive control, are the ultimate red flag. Research has shown that coercive control is more highly correlated to intimate partner homicide than it is to physical abuse. It's one of the strongest predictors that a man will go on to kill his partner or his children.
In Hannah Clarke's case, before her death, she had suffered years of coercive control by her husband. He kept her away from family and friends, tracked her movements and monitored who she met with, who she spoke to and what she wore. Her murderer had never been physically violent towards her until the morning he killed her and her children. Her parents are now vocal advocates for criminalising coercive control, and I want to quote them: 'My daughter Hannah was a beautiful girl and her three kids, Aaliyah, Laianah and Trey, were the loves of her life. She tried to put on a positive front for them, but she was dealing with a hidden darkness. In the beginning it was only little things but then gradually her husband's controlling behaviour really started to escalate. Hannah was ready to leave him after Laianah was born. But then she fell pregnant with Trey, and Rowan convinced her she would be a bad mother if she left. He would constantly go through her phone, track where she was going and control everything. She was not allowed to have a Facebook page or wear shorts to the gym. He would threaten to kill himself, not speak to her for days and then twist it around and try to make her feel guilty. But for a long time Hannah didn't realise she was in an abusive relationship. She would say, "But he's never hit me." He would say the same thing to us: "I've never hit her." In both their heads, that was the definition of domestic abuse. That's one of the most important things we want people to understand. We want to educate people on what coercive control looks like so they can identify if it is happening to them. We didn't know. We want to do anything we can to prevent other people going through the same pain.'
In most jurisdictions in Australia, it's extremely difficult to prosecute where the abuse is an insidious pattern of behaviour rather than an incident of physical violence. Coercive control, though, has been criminalised in Scotland and the UK, and the laws have given police important new tools to protect the victims of abuse. Tasmania has recognised non-physical abuse and financial control as an offence since 2004 but the offence has rarely been prosecuted. The momentum is growing in other states and territories. New South Wales is currently consulting on new laws. WA recently introduced a new offence of persistent family violence. Last week, the NT announced plans to introduce coercive control offences and yesterday Queensland announced that it had appointed Margaret McMurdo to conduct a comprehensive inquiry into coercive control laws.
Criminalisation is not a complete response and cannot happen without wide consultation with experts, victim-survivors, frontline services, police, courts and families. Any change must be accompanied by system reforms, including the development of tools, resources and guidelines for police, prosecutors and judicial officers. We need to help people to identify the signs, to understand and validate that what is happening is not okay and, more importantly, to know what to do.
Taking a national approach, as this motion that is passing through this parliament does—and, again, I reiterate my congratulations to the people who moved it, because it's passing through this parliament with everyone's support—to education and awareness, funding support services and harmonising the legal response will keep more women and children safe. This week, of all weeks, the parliament needs to show some leadership and tackle the culture that fails to keep women safe. The passage of this motion by parties across both houses is critical recognition that we need to take the politics out of it and get to work. We need Hannah's murder and the deaths of the 52 other women since then to actually be a catalyst for change. We need action to keep women and children safe. So, on behalf of the Greens, the Greens support this motion that is passing through the parliament with the support of everyone. We commend the motion to the House.
Tomorrow marks a year since the murder of Hannah Clarke and her three angels. I rise today to speak on this not to inflict further pain or hurt through remembering but to remind us all that domestic violence is an open wound in this country and one that we must work to heal. In the few minutes that I have left, I want to talk into the camera to my 23-year-old self. I hope that I can get through this. Wish me luck. I don't know if she's listening. She's probably not listening, because my 23-year-old self had no interest in politics, but I do hope that she gets this message.
When he messages and he calls you 15 times a day to ask where you are and to find out where you've been, you say: 'It's because he loves you. It's because he cares and wants to protect you.' When he stops you from seeing your friends and your family, you tell yourself, 'It's just because he's a little bit possessive, because he needs you and because he wants you all to himself. When he calls you stupid and he calls you dirty, you tell yourself: 'Maybe I could be a bit smarter. Maybe I could take better care of myself. Maybe he has a point.' When he belittles you in front of his friends and in front of his family, you smile and you tell yourself, 'Well, that's just his sense of humour.' When he pushes you, when he throws things, when he slams doors, you tell yourself, 'He's got a bit of a temper, but at least he doesn't hit me.' And when he grabs you by the throat, pins you up against the wall with his fist in your face, you blame yourself for making him angry. You tell yourself it's not domestic violence because he's never actually hit you. There are no bruises, no broken bones. You haven't had to call the ambulance. You tell yourself that will never happen. But you know it very well might happen. He's capable of it. You know that, and that's what scares you the most—not what he does but what he could do.
Listen to me. Listen to me: none of this is okay. None of this is right. None of this is a normal part of a relationship. And none of this is your fault. None of it. No matter how clean that stupid kitchen is and no matter how shiny that stupid kettle is and no matter how well you fold the laundry and no matter how patient you are, things are not going to get better, because it's not you; it's him. You are not a failure. You're not. There's no reason for you to feel the sting of humiliation and shame. He made you feel that way. You're not the broken one. He needs help and he can get help, but, honey, you have to put yourself first and you have to help yourself first. So please, please get help. Tell someone. Tell a trusted friend. Tell your doctor. Tell a parent. Call 1800RESPECT—that's 1800737732. Please listen to me.
Coercive control is a part of domestic violence. It may not leave bruises and broken bones, but the emotional and psychological pain it inflicts can be just as damaging. Our nation has started a conversation about coercive control. That conversation needs to grow into a groundswell. Changing the law to make coercive control illegal will only go some of the way. It will only solve part of the problem. We need public awareness and education campaigns. We need to tell our daughters and sons that that is not okay, that that is not a normal part of a relationship. We need to overhaul the Family Court system and listen to the advice and recommendations of experts and survivors of family violence. We need more frontline services, more places for women to go when they need to leave. Until then, until we can get to that space, that wound of domestic violence will continue to fester and we will continue to mourn lives lost today, too early, too soon and too tragically.
Before she leaves, I would like to commend the member for Cowan for her contribution. It was very courageous. In Australia, on average, one woman is killed by a partner every 11 days. In 2019, 49 women were killed in a family and domestic violence related incident. An estimated 1.6 million women have experienced violence by a partner since the age of 15. Every single death is one too many. We know that domestic violence against women takes many forms, including coercive control.
The decision to legislate in this area sits with states and territories; however, as a government, we welcome the significant work being undertaken by all jurisdictions to investigate the options for legislative reform for coercive control. The women's safety ministers meeting, co-chaired by the Minister for Women and the Minister for Families and Social Services, will continue to consider the options to legislate with all relevant states and territories at their regular meetings. Over a decade ago, in 2010, all governments around Australia committed to work together on the first National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022. Work has begun on the next national plan, which will commence in 2022, to build on the more than $1 billion invested since 2013.
I reaffirm in this place that violence against women and their children in any form, for whatever reason, has no place in society.
Question agreed to.