Minister for Women and for Human Services

14th March 2017

[6.41 p.m.]

Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise to support the Family Violence Reforms Bill 2016. Eliminating family violence is very much a major priority of the Tasmanian Liberal Government. That is why we are taking action to improve laws which is reflected in this new legislation being debated today. The Family Violence Reforms Bill 2016 proposes amendments which will provide better protections for victims of family violence and hold perpetrators of family violence to account.

Amendments include a penalty provision in the Police Offences Act 1935 for the assault of a pregnant woman, providing for a sentence of up to two years jail; better court processes and support, with alleged victims of family violence more easily allowed to give evidence by an audio visual link, avoiding the trauma of facing the accused in court; and providing victims of a family violence offence the option to apply to be given information about an offender’s release and progress through the prison system.

It is a sad universal truth that family violence know no boundaries. Its impact is not defined by cultural or socioeconomic status and it is largely women and children who pay the price of this insidious reach into our communities. This Government recognises that this is simply unacceptable, which is why we have introduced this bill which will strengthen legislative frameworks to hold perpetrators to account and improve the safety of victims. It also complements the Government’s $26 million Safe Home, Safe Families – Tasmania’s Family Violence Action Plan 2015-20 that was launched in 2015. Most importantly, the amendments in the bill have taken into consideration advice provided by many sources, including the Sentencing Advisory Council, to strengthen our legislative frameworks to deal with family violence.

This bill is just one part of our $26 million Family Violence Action Plan which sets out the priorities for the Tasmanian Government for a coordinated approach to respond effectively to the issues associated with family violence. On top of that plan, across government we also contribute directly over $16 million annually to the departments of Health and Human Services, Police and Emergency Management, Justice, Education and Premier and Cabinet for initiatives that are directly aimed at dealing with the effects of family violence. Over $12 million of this funding is in my Human Services portfolio including shelters, emergency accommodation and family violence counselling support services. We also have indirect funding in excess of $24 million being spent across departments, with approximately $16.5 million of this in my portfolios.

Eighteen months since the implementation of our plan, we have made strong progress in tackling family violence. This includes in my own portfolio, and as a result of the Hodgman Liberal Government’s extra $3 million investment into the family violence counselling support service the wait list for counselling for children who have been exposed to family violence is now zero for the first time. When we came to government the wait list was 117 so this is the first time since children have been receiving counselling that the wait list is now zero. We also now support the Australian Childhood Foundation as well as Support Help and Empowerment, or SHE, which are both providing counselling services in addition to those already available through government-provided services, providing additional counselling resources and more choice for those seeking counselling. We are the first government willing to identify appropriate support for young people aged over 12 years with problem sexualised behaviours, or PSB, with a $94 000 pilot underway to support young people with PSB. The Government is very aware of the growing evidence that the greatest risk factor of children developing PSB is witnessing family violence between parents. Therefore, to ensure appropriate linkages between the Family Violence Action Plan and the other reforms taking place across the Human Services portfolio, including Strong Families, Safe Kids, additional funding has been allocated to Sexual Assault Support Services to conduct a year-long pilot program to support young people aged 12 to 17 years. Therapeutic counselling will be provided to 15 young people who have displayed serious PSB. This intensive counselling also includes support to immediate family members.

In regard to Ms O’Connor’s concerns raised just now on housing for victims of family violence, the Government is working to support people impacted by family violence with a pool of private rental homes being established under our Rapid Rehousing Head Lease program, with 35 houses identified so far to enable victims to access safe and affordable homes with wraparound support. More homes are coming on line all the time.

We are also working with the Hobart Women’s Shelter with the construction of a new shelter to begin this year which will deliver a consolidated crisis facility as well as approximately 64 beds – this does not include cots.  This is an increase, I believe, of around 40 per cent I have been informed, which is quite a large percentage. This actually equals about 15 new homes and the existing homes Hobart Women’s Shelter currently has will go back into the pool of Housing Tasmania’s portfolio so we will end up with an extra 15 new houses for people escaping family violence.  The new consolidated housing model will also allow for greater interaction, engagement and support for women and women with children affected by family violence and will generate greater efficiencies compared with operating under the existing dispersed housing model. Another major piece of our investment is now in place with Catholic Care delivering the Safe Choices service which delivers early intervention and prevention support to anyone affected by family violence, including those who want to exit violent relationships. Safe Choices is now established in southern Tasmania and will be extended to the north-west of the state by the end of June 2017 and to the north in 2018.

Furthermore, as part of the Family Violence Action Plan the Hodgman Liberal Government has already appointed six additional psychologists and social workers to support children and young people affected by family violence in child and family centres. We have also developed Respectful Education programs to be delivered in every Tasmanian Government school and are participating in a national campaign to change community attitudes.

Our Family Violence Consultative Group also continues to play a critical role in providing valuable advice and feedback on our responses to family violence. I thank all members of that group for their commitment and their ongoing work in helping us to tackle what I see as one of society’s greatest social ills.

The centrepiece of our plan, the Safe Families Coordination Unit, has been taking referrals since 27 June 2016. The unit is a ground breaking initiative that continues to bring together all agencies into a state-wide collaborative unit. There have been 1144 recommendations provided by the Safe Families Coordination Unit to better support victims of family violence, 162 high-risk family violence incidents mapped by the Safe Families Coordination Unit, 795 at-risk children identified and 464 notifications made by the unit to schools to support students experiencing family violence. This is Tasmania’s first whole-of-government family violence unit. It is led by police and includes 11 expert staff; an investigator and analyst from both the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services, an investigator from the Department of Education and a review officer from the Department of Police, Fire, and Emergency Management. For the first time these government agency staff are co-located in sharing information to assist in identifying those families at risk of family violence and enabling them to be supported as early as possible. Together they are undertaking interagency case assessment of families experiencing family violence. Importantly, the unit will ensure families at risk are identified and supported as early as possible and it also aids in the prosecution of offenders through dedicated information gathering and intelligence development activities. On top of all of this, 312 additional clients have been provided with legal assistance by both the Women’s Legal Service Tasmania and community legal centres, 78 calls have been made to the Men’s Referral Service. There are now three Tasmanian government departments which are accredited as White Ribbon workplaces with over 1600 employees accredited in 2016.

The Safe Homes Safe Families responding and reporting document which the Premier released today further highlights our achievements in the delivery of Safe Home Safe Families and future directions. I commend the Premier on leading our work in Tasmania in tackling this great social ill.

As expected greater community awareness and intolerance of family violence is leading to more victims feeling confident enough to report offences. While the number of reported incidents has risen preliminary data from the Department of Justice indicates there has been an increase in the number of defendants found guilty of breaching family violence orders. This demonstrates the value of appointing three additional police prosecutors who specialise in family violence.

There is, however, always more to be done. This includes learning from new evidence. In addition to keeping our promise to implement 18 actions we are adding another four actions which revolve around training for front line staff and support for victims, including Aboriginal families, as well as practical support to enable victims of family violence to stay safely in their own home and the development of a practice guide to support service providers working with clients impacted by family violence.

I am confident that by continuing to work collaboratively not only across Government but all political parties, the community sector organisations and the wider community we can address family violence in Tasmania and make a real and sustainable difference for all Tasmanians who experience family violence and help to keep our families and our communities safe. As a government we are very proud of the work we are undertaking to strengthen legal responses to address family violence. By taking strong action we are sending a clear message that living free from violence is everyone’s right and that family violence is total unacceptable.