Ministerial Statement - Domestic, Family and Sexual Violence

08 May 2024

Ms JODIE HARRISON (Charlestown—Minister for Women, Minister for Seniors, and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault) (12:16): The statistics paint a stark picture: One in four women and one in eight men in Australia have experienced violence from an intimate partner or family member since the age of 15. The events of the past few weeks have brought home the reality behind those statistics. Behind each are individual stories, lives impacted directly and indirectly. We know the costs of intimate partner and family violence. We know the toll it takes: the devastating and indelible impact not just on victim‑survivors but also on their family, their friends and our entire community.

When that violence reaches a horrific peak—when a woman loses her life to violence in New South Wales—it resonates right across the entire State. There is grief, there is rage, there is horror and there is understandable frustration. There is frustration from the countless tireless advocates who have worked in this space for so long to see yet another woman lose her life. There is frustration from the loved ones of the women lost to violence about the slow pace of change in preventing the next death. There is frustration from the broader community. I understand that frustration and I feel it too, as I am sure each and every one of us in this place does. One life lost to intimate partner or family violence is one too many.

We owe it to these women—to those we have lost and to those in danger—to feel the grief, the rage and the frustration and to use it to fuel a movement for change. I do believe that right now there is a wave sweeping through our communities, and we in this place must harness that. We are witnessing an urgency to undertake sustained change and a willingness to take responsibility. I believe in this wave because, especially over the past few weeks, I have seen it. Over the past few weeks I have seen men recognise the reality that women have lived with for far too long. The reality for far too many women is that to be a woman is to be scared in your own home and in the streets.

I have seen many of my parliamentary colleagues, from all sides of the Chamber, step up and take a leadership role in this recognition. Leadership on this, from men in particular, is to be applauded. It is essential. I have seen women take to the streets wielding signs and raising their voices to call for justice and for safety. There can be no doubting that it has been a dark time, but on National Domestic Violence Remembrance Day, thousands of people, in groups large and small, lit candles to mourn the women and children lost to violence, symbolically and literally holding back the dark. It is devastating, but it is inspiring. I join with my Government colleagues in refusing to let the moment go by.

I have been the Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault for just over a year. Having been the shadow Minister in opposition, I came to the job knowing exactly how difficult it would be. I know that is not lost on the Leader of the Opposition, who has also held the portfolio. There was investment by the previous Government and law reform, yet the prevalence of domestic, family and sexual violence in the community has not shifted. The most extreme form of it, domestic and family violence-related homicide, remains high. There is no doubt that we need more, but we also need different. We need action now, and we need sustained action over and into the future to reduce prevalence and to prevent domestic abuse before it begins.

On Monday the Government announced the "now"—an emergency package in response to the ongoing, longstanding scourge of domestic, family and intimate partner violence. It is important to say that Monday's announcement is the first phase of the Government's reforms to prevent domestic, sexual and family violence in New South Wales. It starts with the expansion of two of the State's flagship programs: Staying Home Leaving Violence will be expanded to every one of the 128 local government areas across New South Wales, and the Integrated Domestic and Family Violence Services Program—a crucial program that meets women and children victim-survivors where they are and provides flexible, sustained support in recovering from violence—will be expanded to the areas in our communities that need the support the most.

The package gives certainty to the specialist children's workers currently working so brilliantly in 20 refuges across the State, and 10 more refuges will benefit from the program. Let us be clear about the importance of those workers to the most vulnerable victim-survivors. They recognise children as victim-survivors in their own right, working with them to reduce the impact of the trauma those children carry and helping to end a cycle of violence. The package includes support for innovative perpetrator responses, which is fundamental to addressing violence against women. It is vital to recognise the importance of countering the belief and attitudes that accept, condone and, in some cases, support violence against women.

It is gratifying that the Commonwealth announced a commitment to consider what further work needs to be done across the country to prevent and respond to violence against women after the National Cabinet meeting last week. There are discussions to be had about the efficacy of men's behaviour change programs. That does not mean that we should not invest, but it means that we need a greater focus on learning what works. That is crucial. A one‑size‑fits-all approach will not work in this space. We need to know what works for whom. The Department of Communities and Justice will develop an evidence-based typology of domestic and family violence perpetrators that will enable us to better understand which perpetrators might be most suited to intervention.

The package announced on Monday includes an additional $5 million to develop a New South Wales perpetrator strategy and risk assessment tool; to undertake research to better understand the risk factors that may lead young people to perpetration or victimisation in adulthood; and to trial an innovative behaviour change pilot. The package also includes $45 million in justice system responses, which the Attorney General will expand upon in coming weeks.

As members of the House would be aware, I am incredibly passionate about expanding the focus to primary prevention and early intervention. The package is also a down payment on safety for future women in this State. It commits $38.2 million to fully fund the implementation of the first dedicated New South Wales domestic, family and sexual violence primary prevention strategy. The strategy is in the final approval stages, and that work will begin in earnest in the near future. The investment announced on Monday will be complemented by $48 million that will be delivered with the Commonwealth under the domestic and family violence national partnership agreement. I will be working closely with peak bodies and experts, in particular with No to Violence, on future action in this space. I will have more to say in coming weeks.

Talking about a whole-of-government, whole-of-community approach to the prevention and response to domestic, family and sexual violence is not a platitude; it is fundamental. The Government will continue the work that it has started on cross-agency collaboration. The early signs of domestic, family and sexual abuse turn up across the community in preschools, classrooms, GP clinics, hospitals, mental health services and family support services. Crucially, those interactions occur, in many cases—though not all—before a victim turns up at a police station, at an emergency department or, indeed, in a morgue. We need systems to be able to recognise and respond to the early signs to prevent escalation and disrupt the cycle. The people who work in those spaces see the impact of domestic and family violence in their everyday work. They know better than anyone that services sharing information, working together and ensuring that victim-survivors do not fall through the cracks of the very systems that are meant to support them is critical to reducing the prevalence and impact of domestic and family violence.

Currently a review of the governance of domestic and family violence policy and programs in New South Wales is under way, ably led by the Women's Safety Commissioner. That work is important because it is about who is at the table and who influences what gets prioritised. We need the expertise of victim‑survivors and leaders in the domestic, family and sexual violence sector at the table—people who know firsthand how the systems work and, importantly, how they fail. We must address the barriers that prevent government and non‑government organisations from working effectively with each other, with victim-survivors and with people who use violence. Government agencies need to be on the same page on delivering safety outcomes for women, children, families and communities. That cannot be achieved without an authorising environment.

I know that my colleagues and I have the Premier's absolute support in delivering on that work, and I acknowledge his heartfelt commitment. Another area in which we need to do much better is in relation to Aboriginal women and children. First Nations families and communities experience family violence at much higher rates, which can compound a long history of colonisation and devastation of culture. In the delivery of this package, the Government will be working with communities to ensure that implementation meets the cultural needs of First Nations women, children and families. Let me be absolutely clear: The implementation of the primary prevention strategy for First Nations communities must be led by First Nations people.

I thank the Premier for his support in the development of the package. I thank my many parliamentary colleagues who continue to advocate for women and children in their communities. I thank the frontline workers who turn up every day with hope and compassion and the victim-survivors who have shared their experiences so that other women might be spared those experiences. I feel the rage, the grief and the frustration of so many in our community. I share it, but when it comes to the New South Wales Government's response to the scourge of domestic and family violence, let me be absolutely clear that this is only the beginning.