Victims of Crime Assistance and Bail (Domestic Violence) Bills

Posted On: 6 Apr 2017

I rise to contribute to the cognate debate on the Victims of Crime Assistance and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016, VOCA, and the Bail (Domestic Violence) and Another Act Amendment Bill 2017. The Victims of Crime Assistance and Other Legislation Amendment Bill was introduced into the House on 1 December last year by the Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, referred to the Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee, of which I am a member, and reported on by 27 February 2017. The Bail (Domestic Violence) and Another Act Amendment Bill was introduced into the parliament on 14 February 2017 by the Leader of the Opposition and member for Clayfield, referred to the same committee and required to be reported on to the Legislative Assembly by 17 March 2017.

The Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee almost certainly has the most legislation referred to it of all the parliamentary committees. I acknowledge fellow committee members and our secretariat staff. I have to say that I am deeply disappointed the committee could not reach agreement that the bail bill be passed. We investigate and deliberate upon some legislation that regularly exposes the dark side of certain individuals’ behaviours—behaviours that inflict heinous atrocities upon other human beings.

The harrowing testimonies and stories put forward to the committee as part of this process and our considerations are commonly of a deeply sensitive and personal nature, occasionally told by the victims of horrid crimes or the dedicated organisations that represent them in a legally representative or advocacy role. Our committee members recognise the indefatigable courage and strength required by these traumatised individuals to come forward in a somewhat sterile atmosphere and not only recount their shocking ordeals but also tell them to complete strangers.

The policy objectives of the VOCA bill are threefold: to implement the recommendations of the Final report on the review of the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 2009 and ensure the 2009 VOCA Act continues to provide an effective response to assist victims of crime; to introduce a sexual assault counselling privilege; and to give victims of a sexual offence who are to give evidence in a criminal proceeding against the accused automatic status as a special witness. It is important to note here that it is not only victims of crime of a sexual nature this bill provides for but others including elder abuse.

The VOCA Act, which first commenced in December 2009, replacing previous criminal compensation schemes, has already provided $59 million of financial assistance to victims of crime through the financial assistance scheme. Provisions of the act were to be reviewed within five years. This review commenced under the former LNP government in 2013 with completion in December 2015. The final report was tabled 12 months later, in December of last year, by the Acting Attorney-General and Minister for Justice. The review made 15 recommendations and the bill implements all of them.

Of particular interest to witnesses during the public hearing was the introduction of a sexual assault counselling privilege as well as automatic status as special witness for victims who give evidence in court. Currently, it is possible in Queensland for communications between a victim of sexual assault and a counsellor to be accessed and utilised for cross-examination of the witness. By introducing statutory protections, it is hoped more sexual assault victims will be encourage to report these heinous crimes to police and also seek therapy to assist with their recovery, without fear that notes taken during those sessions could be subpoenaed for use in court.

Ms Katrina Weeks from the Centre Against Sexual Violence supported the changes saying—

For a traumatised survivor of sexual assault to benefit most from counselling, the counselling relationship must be based on trust, safety and confidentiality. Currently, all sexual assault counselling is given with the proviso that the counselling notes may be subpoenaed ... As a counsellor I write my notes accurately and with a view that they will help the therapeutic process. It is unfortunate that I also need to have in mind, ‘What if these notes are subpoenaed? Could they be twisted to help the alleged perpetrator or in some way further harm the client?’

These sexual assault counselling privileges will extend to any counselling communication a victim of any sexual offence has had at any time with a counsellor. However, communication made to or by a health practitioner about a physical examination during a sexual assault investigation is not included in such privilege. As such, the amendments establish an absolute privilege and a qualified privilege.

Amounts paid to victims has also been simplified, with increases to the maximum amounts in some categories, including the maximum amount of funeral assistance payable from $6,000 to $8,000, better reflecting the higher cost of a funeral service and increasing the support provided to victims who have lost a loved one as a result of an act of violence. While no amount of compensation could possibly remedy the pain and abuse experienced by victims, this funding is an important factor in ensuring victims are provided with an avenue to seek the professional support and assistance they require into the future. That is why the LNP is very happy to be supporting this bill.

I move now to the objectives of the Bail (Domestic Violence) and Another Act Amendment Bill 2017. They are to: reverse the presumption of bail for a person charged with a relevant domestic violence offence; allow for an urgent review of a bail decision in a higher court, staying the original bail decision for up to three business days to ensure the alleged offender would not be released during that period; establish a special bail condition for a tracking device to be imposed against a person charged with a relevant domestic violence offence; introduce a new system to alert the victim of a relevant domestic violence offence when the defendant applies for bail, is released on bail or receives a variation to a bail condition; and provide the victim of domestic violence with information about a prisoner who receives parole, even if the offence for which the prisoner is incarcerated is not a domestic violence offence.

During deliberations on this bill committee members were privileged to hear from some incredibly brave and determined mothers and a father during our public hearing. I recognise that they have been in the gallery tonight and are still here. It is not common practice for victims to present to the committee in person, and when this does occur we know it is deeply upsetting for them.

This is a critically important bill. I am proud to belong to a political party that is prepared to step up and act on the scourge that is domestic violence. I commend the Leader of the Opposition, the honourable member for Clayfield, for introducing this bill. In doing so, we on this side of the House are showing the people of Queensland we have been listening and we are prepared to act.

I am also proud to belong to a political party that got the ball rolling with an investigation that led to the Not now, not ever report—a report that made a number of recommendations included in this bill. I acknowledge the honourable member for Aspley in the House tonight who drove this in government. I thank the honourable member for Mansfield and the honourable member for Mudgeeraba for their powerful yet measured statements at the public hearing and for their concerted efforts to combat DV.

While listening to witnesses during the 1 March public hearing, most of whom acted in a supporting role to victims, failure of the system was echoed time and again as they spoke of the terrifying, life-threatening experiences of the clients who came to them for counselling after experiencing the chilling personal effects of domestic violence. It was the raw and painful testimonies from mothers of slain daughters that brought home the heartbreaking reality of the devastating effects of domestic violence. Listening to Ms Sonia Anderson, whose daughter Bianca Girven was strangled to death by her partner in 2010, and Bonnie Mobbs and Damien Schilling, parents of Shelsea Schilling murdered by her ex-boyfriend late last year, really spoke volumes of the need to act now.

The frailty of many DV sufferers was brought home—raising grandchildren who are the image of their deceased mother and being reminded of their collective loss on a daily basis. Then there are the heartbreaking questions asked by children who are too young to comprehend what has happened or, worse still, those who witness shocking violence directed at their mother and suffer nightmares and flashbacks continually.

Granted, views were mixed on certain aspects of this bill and cost was mentioned several times by witnesses. However, the words of the honourable member for Mansfield in his reply to our committee strikes at the very heart of domestic violence protection and prevention. He writes—

As I mentioned at the public briefing, there will be a cost to government as a result of the bill’s being enacted, but the cost of doing nothing is far greater—both in terms of the impact on the lives of victims of domestic violence and their families, and in cost to the government and the community.

This shouldn’t be an issue of penny pinching. It’s a pressing issue of community safety and protecting victims and their families. The deterrent effect of these laws may well save lives and family heartache—and if there are fewer offences of this kind as a result of these protective measures the community saves long term on the substantial costs of incarceration, payments to victims of crime, and substantial counselling and community welfare costs.

Those opposite sitting on the government benches should literally hang their heads in shame for not showing bipartisan support on this bill. They bang on when the LNP do not agree with them on legislation that we believe is truly bad for Queenslanders. They climb onto their high moral horses when it comes to anything that has a whiff of a social compass but, when it really comes to the crunch, they weaken and show their true colours, as did the honourable member for Pine Rivers in her bitter tirade and character assassination of the honourable member for Mudgeeraba. The honourable member lashed out for a long time at a member who was not present in this House, and it was an absolutely appalling piece to listen to.

In this case though Labor have shown that they are prepared to play politics with people’s lives. I concur wholeheartedly with comments from the Leader of the Opposition, the honourable member for Clayfield, that exposed Labor’s agenda well and truly. I recall our non-government members’ statement—

The Legislative Assembly should do everything possible to protect the victims of domestic violence and this proposed Bill offers reasonable, workable solutions.

This proposed bill offers reasonable, workable solutions. This bill is based on laws and procedures working in other jurisdictions, or draws from solutions offered by stakeholders on the ground, in the domestic violence support area, or draws on the recommendations of the Not now, not ever report that have not been enacted to date.

It was wonderful to see the hard yards being put in by the Gold Coast Domestic and Family Violence Task Force, recognised in the weekend Courier-Mail on 18 March. The officer in charge of the task force, Detective Inspector Marc Hogan, said, ‘I’ve got no doubt a number of women are alive today because of the work we’re doing,’ and ‘Our main aim is identifying the lethal few and preventing a homicide.’ Since the new non-fatal strangulation laws came into force in Queensland last April, more than 60 Gold Coast men have been charged with the offence. The dedicated task force, formed a year ago, is believed to be an Australian first and works closely with other government agencies. Sadly, the scourge of DV is escalating with reports of breaches soaring from 1,516 in 2015 to 2,456 last year.

Here is the scenario: perpetrators go to prison on remand, are not engaging in programs and are still calling their partners on their phones. These are men who have committed rape, deprivation of liberty, starvation and removal from personal contacts and they are still controlling these women. It makes a huge difference if women can be notified of their perpetrator’s release as they know they will need to re-engage with support services. Why aren’t there more dedicated DV task forces in Queensland? The Gold Coast leads the way. Why not start the use of tracking devices on the Gold Coast as it is the perfect place to begin, with a dedicated DV court in Southport?

Having listened to the submissions pushing the libertarian view and recognising that there are several FLPs raised here, the LNP believes the rights of the alleged offender have to be balanced against the safety of the victims of domestic violence, including the children of affected families, the need to convince the victims of domestic violence to report domestic violence, and the deterrent effects of the policies in the bill on the perpetrators of domestic violence. For way too long the odds have been stacked the other way.

During the public hearing I asked witnesses Professor Heather Douglas, Dr Samantha Jeffries and Mr Bill Potts, the immediate past president of the Queensland Law Society—

... what do you say to the victims’ families who fully support the provisions in this bill? They want to see some action. They do not want to hear that we have no money, we have no resources and diversionary projects take years. What do you say to those families of the victims?

There was broad agreement from these professionals that the system was failing women—and not just the victims but their families including children, many scarred for life. What cost is that to us all? There was talk about evidence based research and broad-ranging programs, and, whilst important, there is a pressing need to close existing gaps swiftly.

We heard about risk assessment teams and the need to expand them. Why hasn’t this progressed sooner? How do we know other agencies will work collaboratively and buy in and not as silos of the past? It is all very well to say we need more early interventions, but women are dying or being strangled within an inch of their lives all too often. It is paramount that we act now; hence the time line of this bill.

I have often said over the years in this place that legislation must be sound and more than an emotional reaction, but the overemphasis on cost really bothered me. This is not some feel-good attempt at legislation. It has the potential to restore some confidence in a system that has failed the very people it is supposed to protect and it has the potential to save lives. We simply cannot sit on our hands and postulate any longer. Mr Mark Lance, from North Queensland Domestic Violence Resource Service, who has 40 years in the Police Service and 16 years in domestic violence, put it like this when he said—

... it is about time we actually did something. I have been working in this sector for well over 20 years. Everything that has been mentioned here was discussed 20 years ago. If we do not actually start it, it is never going to start. I am sick of reviews.

Ms Enoch interjected.

Mrs STUCKEY: I think it is a bit rude of ministers to interrupt when I am quoting a very respected former police officer who has simply been a witness before the committee. This is exactly what happens. They absolutely try to subvert what has been going on in our committees by trying to make out that this witness’s statement is not worthwhile.

Well, here we are with a vehicle for change in the Bail (Domestic Violence) and Another Act Amendment Bill 2017. I urge government members and crossbenchers to support this bill. I echo the sentiments of those on this side who have put a lot of work into this and have gone the extra mile for those victims. I would like to leave you with the words of Di Macleod, the Director of the Gold Coast Centre Against Sexual Violence, when she says, ‘When there is doubt don’t let them out.’

Welcome from Jann

As the State Member for Currumbin since 2004 we have achieved much together to make the place we call home an even better and safer community.

It truly is an honour to serve the caring and connected residents of Currumbin.

Your thoughts and concerns matter to me and I look forward to continuing to be a strong voice on your behalf.

My electorate office staff and I are here to help you with state government issues.

Kind regards

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