Press conference, Southport, Queensland

SUBJECT/S: Cross examination legislation, domestic and family violence prevention



SUBJECT/S: Cross examination legislation, domestic and family violence prevention

MURRAY WATT: Thanks very much for coming along today to for our press conference here on the Gold Coast. Very pleased to have Mark Dreyfus, our Shadow Attorney General in town. We’ve just had a very useful meeting with many people from the Gold Coast domestic and family violence sector. We’ve got some really good ideas that have come out of that meeting and shortly Des Hardman, our Candidate in Forde and Mark will tell you a little bit more about some of the things Federal Labor is putting on the table. So, I’ll hand over to Des to go through some of that.

DES HARDMAN: Good morning everybody, my name’s Des Hardman, Labor’s Candidate for Forde, for the next Federal election. A little bit about my background – I’m a health worker and when it comes to domestic violence I have seen firsthand the results of – the impact it has on people in our community. Today, to be talking about what we can do better and how we can improve the situation for victims and for families really gives us a lot of hope. Here on the Gold Coast, this is a particularly relevant issue given some of the high profile cases that we’ve seen and followed here on the Gold Coast. It’s really a hotspot. We need to talk about it; we need to get it out there and I think our community it very concerned and really wants to see some changes and some positive changes that’ll make this situation better for domestic violence victims and their families. Thanks very much, I’ll hand over to Mark.

MARK DREYFUS: Thanks Des. It was a very useful forum and thank you to Senator Murray Watt and his office for setting it up. It was a useful forum to hear from people working in the now many domestic violence centres and services that are available on the Gold Coast, all of them working incredibly hard without sufficient resources, even though there’s been quite substantial increases from the Queensland State Government in recent years.

I’m specifically wanting to talk about a bill that’s before the Parliament at the moment which is a longstanding proposal of Labor’s the Government has accepted to ban cross examination of family violence survivors by perpetrators. The reason for this is obvious. It causes tremendous distress and harm and disruption to legal proceedings if perpetrators are allowed, particularly if perpetrators who are already carrying a violence order against them or other court findings, it causes tremendous distress for them to be allowed to cross examine survivors of their violence.

But in order to make that work – this was a proposal that Labor took as a commitment to the 2016 election – in order to make that work, there’s a need to provide extra funding to Legal Aid and the Commonwealth Government has so far, notwithstanding that they are putting forward this bill, refused to make that extra funding available. We thought that the amount appropriate was $43 million. That’s the commitment we made at the last election, that’s the commitment we’ll take to the next election. But in the meantime, the Government having brought forward this bill, must now fund Legal Aid properly. Because a ban on cross examination of family violence survivors by perpetrators can only work if legal representation is available. That costs money. That’s something that will be provided by Legal Aid and in order to do that they need funding.

I’d say generally that the Federal Government has failed to properly consider the amounts that are needed to ensure that proper levels of legal assistance are available. We spent three years up to the 2017 Federal Budget fighting with Community legal Centres against a then proposed cut, a cut that was proposed in the 2014 Budget. The Government said it was going to cut 30% out of Community Legal Centres. Happily, we were successful in that fight. The Government, in the end, reversed that cut, and there is not now a 30% cut to Community Legal Centres. But in the meantime there has been no rise in any funding for Community Legal Centres are for Legal Aid Commissions since 2013 – that’s the last Labor Budget, when I was Attorney General.

It’s essential that the Government reconsider the need for proper funding. We see it in the family violence area; we see it in a whole lot of other areas where there is simply a very large and growing area of unmet legal need. Thanks very much to all of you, I’m happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: As part of the introduction of the bill, the Government did say they were going to consult with Legal Aid. It was introduced in Jun. Do you think that’s enough time to consult?

DREYFUS: Absolutely, it’s enough time to consult. It’s been clear since this idea was first put forward by Labor that it can’t be actually implemented unless there is funding. There’s been ample time for the Government to, indeed years for the Government to assess what extra amount is needed and to make a commitment to provide that amount. So I’d say time’s up. The Government apparently is going to bring forward this bill for passage in the next Parliamentary sitting which starts next Monday. We’re calling on the Government to make sure that that extra funding is available.

JOURNALIST: Will Labor be making any amendments to make sure that extra funding is available?

DREYFUS: It’s actually not a question of amending the bill. The bill sets out and provides for new processes and orders that can be made by courts. It envisages that courts imposing a ban on cross examination by an unrepresented perpetrator will make a direction for representation to be provided to ensure that the ban doesn’t interrupt the rest of the trial. So, it’s perfectly clear what the representation is needed for, it’s perfectly clear what the funding’s needed for. The Government’s got to make this operational, not just change the law but they’ve got to make it operational by providing funding.

JOURNALIST: Should funding not be made available, what situation would you see here on the Gold Coast?

DREYFUS: Well, it simply won’t work. We’ll have a continuation of current circumstances where even though there’s a provision in the law that enables courts to protect survivors of family violence from cross examination by perpetrators, the effect of the law will not be able to be made operational because making an order or a ban will simply interrupt the trial, it won’t get you anywhere. It needs to be accompanied by funding to provide legal representation in these kinds of trials. It’s not every trial obviously in a family law setting. It’s not every family law dispute that this is going to occur in. It’s the family law disputes where there have been family violence inflicted on one of the parties. It’s those kinds of trials, and in those kinds of trials we need to see extra funding provided.

JOURNALIST: Mark, you mentioned at the start of your remarks that the Gold Coast has had a few prominent cases of domestic violence. What are your statistics telling you more broadly across the Gold Coast?

DREYFUS: The statistics across the Gold Coast I’d have to defer to Senator Watt who’s based here on the Gold Coast. I can say that nationally, we are still seeing more than one woman a week being murdered by their partners. That’s at the most serious end. That’s something which is a national crisis that we have to do something about. And underneath that there are many, many thousands of cases regrettably occurring in Australia where there is a survivor because they were, happily, not murdered, but that’s the problem with which we are dealing. There’s a need for more resources in crisis housing, there’s a need for more resources in transitional housing, there’s a need to ensure that court processes, which is my primary focus today, are [audio cuts out] family violence survivor in court. Murray, do you want to say something specific about the Gold Coast?

WATT: I’m happy to track down the statistics for you but there’s no doubt that the Gold Coast does have a higher than national average level of domestic violence. Which is a tragedy, and it’s something that all of us have got a responsibility here on the Gold Coast to address. We want the Government to address it, as the Opposition we’re trying to address it as well. We’ve got some fantastic service providers here on the Gold Coast, but all of us in the community have got to take some responsibility to try and get the level of domestic violence that we’re seeing here down.

I think that that is starting to happen as the result of the work that the good services are going, but there’s an awful lot more to be done, and if the Government doesn’t fund the legal services for perpetrators, now that cross examination by perpetrators won’t be allowed, then that’s only going to add to the problem.

If any of you were interested in a little bit more about what the risks are if this funding isn’t provided, we’ve got Victoria Shiel, who is the Director of the Gold Coast Community Legal Centre. She knows better than any of us.

JOURNALIST: I guess the obvious question is what are you noticing on the ground as far as domestic violence on the Gold Coast?

VICTORIA SHIEL, DIRECTOR AND PRINCIPAL SOLICITOR OF THE GOLD COAST COMMUNITY LEGAL CENTRE: We’re noticing a dramatic increase in people coming forward, looking to us for assistance. When I look at our statistics over the past four years, it used to be that one person in eight came in with a domestic violence related matter. It’s now one in three. So, more and more there’s demand on our service for assistance.
JOURNALIST: And that’s just locally, on the Gold Coast?

SHIEL: That’s just on the Gold Coast, yes.

JOURNALIST: Okay, and for you, these victims or alleged victims that are coming in, what sort of shape are they in when they come to you?

SHIEL: They’re in crisis. They’re coming in, quite often they’re homeless, and they’re having trouble accessing supports. Quite often they’re from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. They’re coming in in trauma.

JOURNALIST: How much of a need is there for this bill? How often to perpetrators want to self-represent.

SHIEL: It’s not so much that people want to self-represent, it’s having the resources so that people can afford representation. Often, if you’re the perpetrator you have trouble getting a grant of Legal Aid for assistance so even women where they’ve got an application for and against them can’t get Legal Aid where they’re the respondent. So there’s a dire need.
What we find with people who are unrepresented, cross examining, is that the woman is re-traumatised.  They often disassociate, they can’t think properly. It’s already a traumatic environment. Put in the perpetrator questioning them, they fall apart.