I rise today to speak on the Cemeteries and Crematoria Amendment Bill 2021 before us. The bill primarily provides the Secretary of the Department of Health with the power to direct the surrender or variation of a right of interment and ensures that the rights of all victims and other persons directly and adversely affected by serious crimes are given appropriate
respect and a say in what happens to the remains and resting places of their loved ones. The bill also makes a number of other minor and technical amendments.
I was listening to the member for Lowan, and she outlined the Ristevski case in quite some detail, and so I do not intend to go into that again. But I would say that my heart also goes out to the family who had to go through and endure such horrendous circumstances for such a long time. There was a great deal of media coverage of the crime, and we all recall it well. There were some extraordinary facts involved in that case, but ultimately what I can say is that it was clear that there was a tragic loss of life of Karen. She was a woman in her own right who did not belong to anyone. She may have been a wife and a mother and a sister, but she was an individual who should not have had her life taken from her.
The statistics for family violence are stark, and we regularly revisit them, but I think we just have to. We have to keep on repeating them until something changes, until they start going down, and hopefully one day they will have disappeared. Approximately one-quarter of women in Australia have experienced at least one incident of violence by an intimate partner. On average one woman a week in Australia is killed by her intimate partner. Most victim-survivors of intimate partner violence are women. Approximately one in five Australian women—18 per cent, or 1.7 million—has experienced sexual violence. Partner violence often occurs when women are pregnant. Intimate partner violence is the greatest health risk factor—greater than smoking, alcohol and obesity—for women in their reproductive years. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women experience high rates of violence, with significant health impacts. An estimated three in five Indigenous women have experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner since the age of 15. Over one-third of women with disabilities experience some form of intimate partner violence. Children often see the violence between their families. Family violence is a factor in so many of the child protection cases that we see.
Many women do not seek help about their experience of violence. Of women who have experienced violence by a current partner, just over 54 per cent had sought advice or support about the violence they had experienced. They say that 82 per cent never even contact the police. As someone who spent 35 years in legal practice as a family lawyer before I came into this place, I can say that representing women and children in these violent situations always left me shocked and distressed when I heard their stories. As a matter of course with every woman that came in I would ask her whether she had been hit, whether she had been the victim of finally violence. In the early days I used to be surprised when someone would say, ‘Oh, not really. Just a smack or a bit of a hit’ or, ‘Pushed me up against the wall’ or did this—like that was not family violence.
There is such an expectation among so many women that they just seem to accept so much of this. It is not acceptable, and often it takes a great deal of time for women to get to the point where they feel empowered enough to do it. There is no doubt that the additional services, all the things that have been put in place in providing resources for women, do make a difference, but when you see these numbers, they are so great. It is like you feel like you may never be able to provide the level of service that is truly needed.
In Shepparton in my early years in family law practice Sergeant Ken Patterson was the only policeman who dealt with family violence. There was probably a notion that it did not happen very much anyway and only one policeman might be required, and it was only part of his job. Today we have a family violence unit with I think at least six men and women operating in it, and they are busy all the time. And of course the reporting rate has gone up, so there are many more cases. Our local Magistrates Court has family violence days now where that is basically all the cases that are being heard for the morning or the afternoon, just depending on how many are listed.
There is no doubt that there has been a real shift in the way people think over all those years, that there is much more of an intolerance and that the police have become more involved. I remember the days when you would ring up the police and say, ‘There’s something going on next door’ or, ‘There’s a fight going on down the street’, and they would say, ‘Is it just a domestic?’. That was just a classic statement that so many people used to report. Even on attendance at a house sometimes in the old days that was the sort of response the police had.
A lot of things have changed, and they have been really welcome changes. There is no doubt that the Royal Commission into Family Violence has highlighted the issues surrounding it. I was here in the Parliament when Rosie Batty addressed us during the last term of Parliament, and the work that she has done has been truly outstanding to raise the profile and get a better understanding of what family violence is, because it is not just being hit or killed or thrashed in some way, it is also all of that controlling behaviour that so often exists in relationships and that can in itself be just incredibly damaging to women.
During the course of last year there was much talk about the likely increase in family violence as a result of the lockdowns and people being at home and the very significantly changed circumstances as a result of the pandemic. There was a recent Monash University paper that affirmed that indeed the figures had gone up and that the complexity and level of violence was greater in so many cases. This legislation has just highlighted a case of terrible family violence where a woman’s life has been taken. It is making provision for some justice for families, those left behind, the loved ones, to be able to deal with the remains of their family member in a way that is respectful and appropriate and at a time when people are just so distressed and vulnerable in themselves. So I certainly welcome this change.
I think probably many people did not even realise that the law was as it was, and there would be very few who would disagree that this is appropriate. The March 4 Justice that we saw earlier this week is something that is, I think, a response to so many things that are happening in our society at the moment, including workplace harassment. We have seen the Brittany Higgins exposure, telling her story alleging that she was raped in federal Parliament. We are seeing how federal Parliament is dealing with, or in some cases not dealing with, the issues. We have heard Grace Tame speak very eloquently not only at the National Press Club but in the speech at the March 4 Justice in Hobart on Monday. These are outstanding young women who are now coming forward, and many of them will become leaders as people like me stop being leaders, in a sense. It is very heartening to see that there is a real passion and desire in the next generation of young women to do something about this.
I have a daughter. So many of us do. We do not want this sort of life for our children. We want our daughters to be safe in their relationships and to know that they can stay well and enjoy good health and a good relationship. Until we address these issues that are just around us every day, that have been exposed continually in recent weeks at various levels, we will not achieve much. But we are talking about them. I have been around since the women’s movement of the 1970s and have seen a great deal of change in what has happened with the women’s movement. I feel quite strongly that we are at a point now where we are not going to go back. This is just another monumental step that means we are demanding that things change, that violence against women must stop and that women will no longer tolerate this sort of treatment that they have been subjected to for so long.