Speeches | May 11, 2017

Family Violence Protection Amendment (Information Sharing) Bill 2017

Victorian Parliament - 11 May 2017 - Ms KEALY - Debate resumed.It is a privilege to rise to add my contribution to the Family Violence Protection Amendment (Information Sharing) Bill 2017. This is a wideranging bill which, as the name suggests, is around improving information‑sharing processes between various organisations to ensure that we have a stronger framework to make sure that people do not fall through the gaps and that we have a system where information is shared, rather than a victim having to provide their story over and over again.

There are three main purposes of the bill. It is about establishing a scheme for sharing between prescribed entities information relevant to assessment and management of risk of family violence; developing a new family violence risk assessment and risk management framework; and implementing recommendations 1, 2, 5, 6 and 7 of the Royal Commission into Family Violence.

We have heard a lot from this government around family violence. There has been an enormous number of media stunts and media releases all about how much money we are spending on family violence and what we are going to do. There have been all of these reviews done by various committees. There have been glossy brochures galore. But unfortunately when you cut through all of that information around family violence and you actually speak to local women and families — when you speak to local councillors and when you speak to local police officers — you find out that actually this is something that is not getting better by putting out more and more glossy brochures, by forming another committee and by just talking about it.

Certainly in my part of the state, in the Lowan electorate, which includes the Western District and the Wimmera regions of Victoria, we are seeing family violence rates go through the roof. I was very disappointed to receive information from local police recently that talked about the high rate of domestic violence that is occurring in our region. Some police refer to Sunday as ‘family violence day’ because they are constantly called out to various domestic violence incidents.

This is getting worse; it is not getting better. If you look at some of the statewide data, over the past five years we have seen an increase in family violence of 28.8 per cent from the year ended December 2012 to the year ended December 2016 , an almost one‑third increase in the rate of family violence, and this is just getting worse and worse and worse.

We had somebody who approached my office recently, a young woman from a rural town in my electorate who had been a victim of family violence. I am not sure how long she was a victim of family violence for, but she was involved in an incredibly aggressive assault, she suffered extreme head injuries and she was admitted to hospital for a number of days. She was not cleared to go back to work until she had a CAT scan — of course we do not have local access to that sort of technology in our region. Because she had just started a new full‑time job she was not able to access any sick leave to cover off that period. She was not a Centrelink client, so she was not able to access any emergency funding. She truly was left high and dry by the system. She, of course, was seeking counselling, which is the normal process that happens when the police are involved in these types of incidents. She was told that to see the family violence counsellor she would have to wait for a period of five weeks. On further investigation around that, we found out that there are actually 40 women on the waitlist to see a family violence counsellor in western Victoria. There is only 0.6 equivalent full‑time of a government funded family violence counsellor from Ararat right through to the border.

It is simply not enough support for women who are trying to escape what may be years and years of abuse. This is where the system is letting us down. This is where no number of glossy brochures or media statements or stunts will help these women. It is an absolute disgrace that when we hear these big announcements about support for financial counsellors for victims of family violence, all that we got for this entire region of the Wimmera, which as I said, goes from Ararat to the border, was 6 hours a week. It was not even enough to put on an employee.

We are being neglected in rural Victoria. We have some of the highest rates of family violence. It is well known that women who live in rural areas are far more likely to be victims of family violence than their city sisters, yet we are not seeing that investment from this city‑centric Labor government to make sure that those supports that our women desperately need are out there.

I raised with the relevant minister over a year ago that we had deep concerns that 17 support and safety hubs for the state of Victoria are simply not enough. There would only be one support and safety hub from Brim in the north of my electorate, all the way down to Warrnambool, and that takes in the areas of Horsham, Stawell and Ararat. If we are looking to provide better support for women, so that they have got a safe place where they have got a one‑stop shop, that is fabulous. But do not expect them to travel 4 hours — 400 kilometres — to be able to access that kind of support.

I was extremely disappointed to see in the announcement for the budget that Labor are still sticking by this idea that we need to have 17 support and safety hubs. We need to look at how we fund these sorts of supports not by population, because it just does not work in rural areas. It just does not work to expect that somebody has to travel that far — when they may not have access to a vehicle, when they may not have access to public transport options, when they may not have any other supports in the area that can take them to a safe place — and to put this extra burden of responsibility on them. Not only does a victim have to make a decision and have the confidence that they want to break out of this cycle, that they want to make a change and they want to have a different life, but then we have to get them to organise their travel to a support and safety hub which is hundreds of kilometres away.

We provide no support for that. This is why I do not think that Labor is appropriately addressing family violence in rural Victoria. We simply need to see these supports on the back line. My concern is that we are seeing family violence crime continue to increase in the area. We continue to hear from police that this issue is getting bigger, it is not getting smaller. We hear from local counsellors that so often they are talking to an individual — it may be a male, it may be a female — and unpacking all of the issues that may be going on in their lives. They may be going through different addictions, they may be going through different levels of depression and anxiety or other mental health challenges, but so often underneath there is a family history and a relationship to family violence.

If we do not have access to such support in local areas across rural Victoria, we will not rise to the challenge of putting an end to family violence. We may see a decline in city areas, but it is simply not enough for women and children who are living in country Victoria. It is my deepest criticism of this government that they hold this so high as a flagship of something they want to achieve, and over and over again we hear about the money they are putting into it and about all of the features of what they are going to put in, but at the end of the day when you actually speak to the people directly involved with the women who are in violent family situations, when you speak to the counsellors and the police, time and time again you hear that it is just not making a difference. It is not making a difference for our local people.

I would like to see a shift in direction. I would like to see less money put into having a new poster put up and have less money, as I have referred to a number times, for the glossy brochures. We need real support out there for when women finally get to the point where they want to see a difference and where they want to make a change to their lives and break out of the family violence cycle. There is an obligation upon this Parliament and particularly upon the government to ensure that those supports are available for the women who need them the most at the time they need them.


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