Page 2324 - Week 07 - Wednesday, 3 August 2022

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This bill adds to the significant work that the ACT government has been implementing for a number of years now, particularly in the prevention and response space, to address occurrences of domestic and family violence. It is a complex area to work in, so our response needs to be broad to overcome these complexities. This amendment bill will not on its own end domestic and family violence. If only it were that simple. We cannot simply expect to be able to arrest our way out of this issue. However, it is important and it reflects on and acts on the feedback that the government has received from victim-survivors, advocates and specialist service provider experts in this space.

Data gathered from the Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that approximately one in four women and one in 14 men have experienced violence by an intimate partner. We also know that intimate partner violence contributes to more death, disability and illness in women aged 15 to 44 years than any other preventable risk factor. To successfully address domestic and family violence in our community, we must ensure that the ACT government implements an integrated system response. Perpetrators of domestic and family violence must be held accountable and we must ensure that their behaviour is not minimised. Victim-survivors must be supported by providing appropriate support services and protections and by improving access to justice.

The ACT government will continue to look at innovative ways that we can reduce domestic and family violence in our community. The amendments in this bill implement the second phase of the ACT government’s commitment to address sentencing in family violence matters to ensure the accountability of perpetrators and to implement a number of recommendations of the 2020 Family Violence Act review.

The Family Violence Act review heard from victim-survivors as well as stakeholders who work in the service sector. These reforms have been developed in consultation with those key justice stakeholders.

The bill introduces six key reforms to the Crimes Act, the Working with Vulnerable People (Background Checking) Act, the Crimes (Sentencing) Act, the Evidence (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act and the Family Violence Act. First, the bill introduces an aggravated family violence offence scheme in the Crimes Act. Offences included in the scheme will be considered aggravated offences if they involve family violence. An aggravated offence attracts a high maximum penalty to reflect the seriousness of domestic and family violence offending. This will allow the courts to impose harsher sentences where appropriate.

Analysis of the domestic and family violence behaviours used by perpetrators demonstrates the range of physical and non-physical violence used by abusers to dominate and control their partner. The data suggests that any relationship that exhibits domestic or family violence—whether physical, sexual, emotional, social or economic—is embedded with a risk of fatality. The scheme recognises the broad-ranging nature of domestic and family violence by including both physical
and non-physical offences. The scheme will help to ensure that this behaviour is publicly denounced by specifically acknowledging that family violence is an
aggravating factor.

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