I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to the Justice Legislation Amendment (Family Violence Protection and Other Matters) Bill 2018.
As someone who worked at the coalface for 35 years before I came into this Parliament, working in family law predominantly, it was an extraordinary experience to sit in the Parliament the day that the Premier announced the Royal Commission into Family Violence.
I suppose when you are a practising lawyer in the field, you just go on day to day doing your job, and doing it on that micro level in a sense. To hear and see what was happening in this Parliament on that day, to understand that this issue would be looked at in a serious way and in a much more global way and to also understand that the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was happening at the same time really brought my senses around all of this to a much higher level.
It has been quite a journey to see the change that has taken place over the last three and a half years since I was elected to this place. I well recall the day that Rosie Batty and others were invited to speak on the floor of the Parliament. What a very moving experience it was for everyone to hear her story, which we all well and truly knew by then, but nevertheless it was very moving. She was certainly a very brave woman to stand up and do what she did. But I have to say that every other day I spent in the Magistrates Court in Shepparton acting for people who were the victims of family violence on intervention orders, I saw brave women too. They were prepared to make an application to put their evidence before a court and seek protection for themselves and generally their children as well.
As I said, it has been very pleasing to see this evolution of understanding what family violence is in our community and to see the changes that are being made. This particular bill contains a range of legislative changes that put into place at least six more of the recommendations of the royal commission. I will speak to a few of them in the limited time that I have.
The specialist family violence courts will be a very significant change. As I understand it, at the moment there is one in Melbourne and one in Ballarat, but with our new Shepparton Magistrates Court, our new courthouse in Shepparton, which is truly grand, we can expect to have a specialist family violence court established there in due course, I believe. I truly welcome that facility after years of seeing people crowded around outside courts with absolutely no security other than a policeman in the vicinity of a court and seeing people with knives and people behaving in all sorts of outrageous ways simply because of the lack of any security or the provision of adequate services for people to attend court. There were no conference rooms where you could take your client and sit quietly while you were waiting for your case to be called on. People had to stand around with perpetrators at one end of the hall and victims at the other, and often children were brought in as well. A court facility that is five storeys high with conference rooms and rooms for mediation and for support services will see a very, very improved set of circumstances for victims of family violence. I truly welcome the fact that that is happening.
The trial of recorded evidence-in-chief is going to be very significant with victims not having to face their perpetrator, at least on the first occasion if not on other occasions. The introduction of that will relieve the burden on victims of family violence. I have often thought that the abuse is just continuing to be perpetrated by the perpetrator when victims are in a witness box and being cross-examined in relation to events that have taken place.
The extension of therapeutic treatment orders for young people who have shown particular sorts of behaviour is a sensible provision, but I would say on that issue that it does seem to me that providing therapy for young people when they are in their teenage years means that you have probably missed the boat by 10 years. All the evidence shows that intervention in early childhood is the most important time and the most effective time to intervene and change the course of a young person’s life, and to wait until they are already involved in criminal proceedings, very often family violence situations, is simply too late. It may have some effect, but it is not going to have the effect that that early intervention would have.
We all know that many of the people that will be the recipients of these therapeutic treatment orders have come from backgrounds where they have been victims of trauma and abuse for many years, and that has generally not been addressed at any stage until they get into the court system. So while it is a welcome change, it certainly indicates to me that we still do not want to follow the evidence and understand that it is much earlier intervention that will make the difference.
The ability for courts to be able to on their own motion make an interim intervention order when there are criminal proceedings underway is also a welcome one. I think it is fair to say that there are situations where evidence will be being heard and family members will be in court at the same time, and it becomes quite evident from the evidence that is being given that a dangerous situation is in place and that when parties leave the court at 4 o’clock it is quite possible that a family violence situation might occur. So for a magistrate to be able to just say, without any application and without any need for paperwork or other intervention, ‘I’m making an order, and this is what it will be. This is what it will achieve’, is again a simple change but a very sensible one.
I would like to take the opportunity just in the last minute I have to recognise the work that our magistrates do in the Magistrates Court system. They are the people who sit every day dealing with 50 or 60 cases of family violence and criminal matters. The toll that that takes on them is immense, and I think we all understand and know that from recent events. It is something that is very often not recognised. For anyone who works in a field where all they hear all the time is the dark, the miserable and the violent side of life, that takes a toll on them, so I commend all of those magistrates who work in the fields of family violence, child-related matters and child protection. I commend this bill to the house as an improvement.