Domestic Violence - Hansard

I am proud to be the first Labor member to hold the shadow portfolio of prevention of domestic violence and sexual assault. In this role I hope to find areas where the Government and the Opposition can work together to shine a light on the often unspoken cases of domestic violence and sexual assault, and create solutions. The reality of domestic violence has recently received significantly increased media and public attention.

While, in the past, the media has been reluctant to delve into what some considered private family matters we are now seeing the stark and brutal reality that lies behind closed doors. The prominence of this issue has been increased, in particular, by the work of the Australian of the Year, Rosie Batty, whose personal experience shocked the country and whose courage in speaking out forced this issue onto the national agenda. As Ms Batty said:

      Family violence may happen behind closed doors but it needs to be brought out from these shadows and into broad daylight.

She said:

      To the women and children who are unsafe, in hiding or living in fear, who have changed their names, left their extended families and moved from their communities to find safety, you do not deserve to live a life that is dictated by violence.

Yesterday, outside this place, over 100 women carried 39 coffins representing 39 women killed across this country as a result of domestic violence. These women could be heard from inside this Chamber chanting, "Stop the deaths now." I welcome the motion from the member for Myall Lakes but I seek clarification on some of the figures he provided, in particular, to the deaths per week and the deaths year to date in New South Wales. More is needed to support women and while I recognise the Government's efforts in implementing the Safer Pathways and Staying Home Leaving Violence program, the fact that this Government is also closing the safe spaces run by women for women is disgraceful. From across the State I have heard from refuges facing closure under this Government's Going Home Staying Home policy, a policy title which is deeply disturbing for women whose home is not a safe place to go to. And of those women's shelters that are still open, I hear too often of women in need being turned away.
Current reports for refuges across this State mean that almost every second woman seeking refuge is turned away. If we are unable to provide a safe place for women in their time of incredible need when they leave their violent partner, then we are failing. In Hornsby, the Hornsby Ku-ring-gai Women's Shelter had to turn away 70 requests for accommodation in the two months after it opened in February. This is a tale I am hearing from centres up and down the coast and throughout regional New South Wales. Miranda-based Crossroads Community Care Centre is another centre that has had to turn women away. Managers at the centre report a 400 per cent increase in the number of women seeking refuge following this Government's changes to funding arrangements for service providers.

Across the State a number of women-run women's refuges have had to close their doors. From the Blue Mountains-based Blue Gum Housing, which closed last October, to the Killara in Randwick, which closed last July, there is no part of this State that has been left untouched by these changes. Sydney hairdresser Leila Alavi is reported to have been turned away from overcapacity women's shelters at least 80 times before she was killed by her husband earlier this year. This Government's attitude of combining women-run refuges into general homeless services is failing women in need. There are concerning reports of women being asked to pay for their refuge accommodation, being placed in the same accommodation as women who are homeless due to substance abuse rather than domestic violence or being placed in mixed gender shelters. The Government's policy fails to recognise the unique situation of women escaping domestic violence. Instead, it is placing additional barriers before women.
If Going Home Staying Home is to work, specialist support services need to be provided by homelessness services to cater for those people who have suffered domestic violence. I note the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research report which found that in Bathurst reports of domestic violence increased by 21 per cent; in Canterbury they were up 23.7 per cent; in Moree up 20.4 per cent and in Tweed up 20.8 per cent. While the total number of reports in Glen Innes remains small, the 200 per cent increase in reports of domestic violence in that town is deeply disturbing. The highest rates of domestic violence per head of population were in Bourke, Walgett and Moree Plains.

Domestic violence is found in every city and every region of this State. Looking at these figures I can only hope that these increases are due to the efforts of support workers encouraging women to report these crimes, and society's increasing awareness and willingness to discuss this issue, which would previously have been dismissed as a private matter to be kept behind closed doors. I join the member for Myall Lakes in recognising the work of police officers on the ground, who support women as they make these reports and, in particular, the domestic violence liaison officers who lead the way in supporting these women.

From speaking with police officers recently I understand the unenviable task they face in responding to domestic violence cases and the burden that this places on them. Domestic violence represents the largest volume of crime the New South Wales Police deal with. Officers also spoke about the court system which makes prosecuting domestic violence cases so difficult. Labor proposed a specialist domestic violence system. This is certainly an area of difference between the Government and the Opposition. I encourage the Government to use the upcoming budget to establish domestic violence specialist courts to support survivors and victims of domestic violence in not having to retell their harrowing stories to multiple different agencies and different legal entities. I hope the current media focus on domestic violence is maintained. It will force us to have difficult conversations and confront a reality we would rather ignore. But it is a reality we must address and I am committed to working with the experienced women in this field to develop solutions.