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Monday, 19 October 2015
Page: 11699

Mrs McNAMARA (Dobell) (12:56): I thank the member for Indi for bringing this motion to the House. My support for the victims of domestic violence is well-documented both in this House and in my local community on the Central Coast. Many within this place and within my community would know that I am a strong advocate for the need for the government and the legal system to have policies and procedures in place that are responsive to the needs of the victim.

It is horrifying to acknowledge that intimate partner violence is the top risk factor for death, disability and illness in women aged 15 to 44. This blight on our community can and must be acted upon, and it must cease immediately. There is nothing more confronting for a victim than having to interact with the perpetrator in a formal court room setting. In my opinion, this is a continuation of an abusive relationship.

The strength and courage found by victims when they leave an abusive relationship is incomprehensible. As much support as possible needs to be provided to ensure the move they have made and the follow-on outcomes are not made any more traumatic. For an abuser to have the opportunity to cross-examine their victim in a formal court setting is unacceptable. This is why Commonwealth state and territory governments worked with the community to develop the 12-year National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children. The plan includes within its vision that Australian women and their children are able to live free from violence in safe communities, and that a significant and sustained reduction in violence against women and their children is actioned.

The Second Action Plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children was launched on Friday 27 June. One of the main outcomes of the plan was to drive continuous improvement in systems across the Commonwealth and the state and territory governments through reviewing domestic and family violence related policies. Within the plan are actions to improve information sharing across court processes. Commonwealth state and territory governments are continuing to explore and implement methods to improve collaboration and information sharing between court processes to achieve the best outcomes possible for victims.

The plan also involves initiatives that concentrate on the impact of victim-focused court practice reforms. I strongly support the call within this motion to amend family law legislation to ensure that in a situation of family violence an unrepresented litigant alleged or known to have perpetrated violence is legally prohibited from directly cross-examining a victim.

Improving the efficiency and the relevance of the justice system in response to domestic violence is an important aspect of the new reforms that form part of the national plan. I acknowledge the efforts of the states and territories in recognising that this is a problematic area, and solutions are being implemented to combat this issue.

With state modifications, complemented by Commonwealth government changes, it will soon be evident the issue of intimidation and confrontation in court rooms as a result of the cross-examination of a witness by a perpetrator has been taken seriously and remedied. Key initiatives such as specialist court responses, services and projects will help complement and support victims as they go through this difficult time. I am particularly supportive of the need for specialist services for child witnesses. The support of child witnesses in court proceedings is paramount, and it is pleasing to see that priority 3, action 16 of the plan specifically reiterates building support for children who have experienced, witnessed or been exposed to violence.

National priority 4 of the plan specifically addresses improving perpetrator interventions. This section reiterates that systems, including police, justice, corrections and community services, need to work together to increase the effectiveness of perpetrator interventions. It is important that this applies to all victims in the courtroom setting as well. Preventing and reducing violence against women and children requires strong legislation that is efficiently administered and holds perpetrators to account. We cannot provide an accused person with the opportunity to examine a victim in a court case. The implementation of strong legislation is a means of preventing this from occurring.

Violence against women and children can be defined in many different ways, with each state and territory having their own definition under their respective legislation. I am proud to be part of a government which takes the eradication of violence against women, children and in some cases men seriously. This is demonstrated in the recent announcements of over $100 million to fight the issue of domestic violence. As part of this announcement I will be campaigning to have a legal assistant service provider allocated to the Central Coast in the coming year. I commend everyone who is fighting against domestic and family violence.