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Monday, 10 September 2018
Page: 8454


Mr WOOD (La Trobe) (19:17): I rise to speak on the Family Law Amendment (Family Violence and Cross-examination of Parties) Bill 2018. First of all I must congratulate the Attorney-General, Christian Porter, for bringing this bill forward. It is a very important bill. I also acknowledge that the other side have also been very supportive of the bill. Right at the outset I make the point that not all men are involved in family violence or want to intimidate women in any way. That is in some ways wrongly portrayed. On the other hand, as a former police officer, I have seen some men acting in the most barbaric and cruel ways to the so-called family that they are supposed to love. So many times you'd go to a family violence situation and walk in the door and the husband and wife would be screaming at each other. You'd see the young children cowering in the same room, absolutely terrified of what was going on. But when you walked in and the parents were just abusing each other, those were the good family violence cases to go to. The really bad ones were where there was so much violence and women were really badly beaten. There were cases I've been to—in one case a lady, the spouse, was raped. This was when I was at the Knox criminal investigation branch. She had very horrific injuries and had been badly beaten. We took her to a hospital. At that stage I think it was the community policing squad that looked after her. As detectives we were very confident that we had sufficient evidence to take the offender, the husband, to court. However, within a week or so the victim came to the office and there was the husband behind her. She'd been to a solicitor and provided a statement that she wanted no further police action. In those days, too, we tried to get it up, but the DPP wouldn't proceed with the case where the victim had withdrawn the complaint.

Things have definitely improved over time when it comes to law enforcement, prosecution of cases and the way police respond to family violence. I still recall another time when a lady I attended in Collingwood who had very, very poor English was trying to explain to me and my partner at the time that her ex-husband had basically been stalking her and she was in fear. She was able to produce an intervention order, and eventually I said, 'Okay, I'll take this on and see how we can go.' Then she supplied to me 27 other occasions that police members had attended, with their name, rank and the date they attended, and where absolutely no action was taken. So you could tell this poor lady had been living through hell. The good news is we ended up proceeding with the case and proving by phone calls that the offender had breached his intervention order. It was all about fear. It was all about control.

You then, sadly, look at my electorate of La Trobe. In Casey Cardinia, the family violence figures seem to me like they have to be wrong. I have been told that one in five families has family violence. When I speak to schoolteachers, again they speak of family violence, quite often caused by drugs, quite often caused by financial problems. But, in saying that, it always comes back to the male figure in the household. He can't control his anger. Everyone in life at times has the ups and downs of really bad things happening, but it doesn't mean you yell and beat your wife or your partner and also the children.

Sadly, in the last couple of years we've seen in the country that the amount of family violence ending in murder seems to be getting worse and worse. Nearly every week there's some poor female victim who has met someone on social media or has been in relationships where the other person has decided to take it out on their wife or spouse—or, in cases where a complete stranger has met a person on a dating site, they have decided to take revenge on them.

When it comes to the cross-examination, yes, I've got no doubt that there'll be some men who would do it in the correct manner in which it is supposed to be done, but, sadly, I find through my personal experience that, when you get a person who is absolutely vindictive, they would be using the process just to humiliate and intimidate their wife or spouse in the witness box, asking those so-called 'personal questions', which the court at the time would be nearly obliged to allow. In doing so, as I said, the victim would just be suffering and suffering. That's why we find that there is a huge reluctance for, in the first place, women to place intervention orders on men. I've spoken to a number of female victims, some of whom have been personal friends, who have told me that, especially when you have children, you're thinking first, 'Okay, how am I going to look after those children?' I remember raising this with Rosemary Batty when she attended a forum up here in Canberra. Sadly, she had the tragedy of losing her son, and her big issue was that women in family violence situations, especially with children, quite often feel compelled to stay there if the violence is only on them and not their children; they can put up with that for the sake of their children. But, normally, you find that the acts don't get any less violent or threatening and eventually the children, even if they are completely removed from the situation, get dragged in by these awful threats and intimidation.

Having, as proposed by this legislation, the cross-examination only conducted by a legal person acting as a defence counsel, puts a barrier in front of the victim. It puts a barrier in front of the female and stops them being cross-examined by their perpetrator and having unnecessary, intimate questions—quite often asked just to humiliate or intimidate them—asked. Going through a defence counsel takes that away from them. So this is very important legislation. The bill amends the act by prohibiting personal cross-examination when:

either party has been convicted of, or is charged with, an offence involving violence, or a threat of violence, to the other party,

a family violence order (other than an interim order) applies to both parties,

an injunction under section 68B or 114 of the Family Law Act for the personal protection of either party is directed against the other party,

the court makes an order that personal cross-examination is prohibited.

So there are safeguards in place to ensure that, if it's a situation where there are threats of violence against the parties involved, the person can have the defence counsel ask those questions.

I fully support this legislation, and I acknowledge that both sides are supportive. I make the final point that I have been a very strong advocate of community legal centres of Victoria and have been able to secure funding for them in the past.