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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2021 Week 03 Hansard (Tuesday, 30 March 2021) . . Page.. 616 ..

It is incumbent upon the government to remain vigilant in ensuring that our laws and systems are able to respond. It is for this reason that the government commissioned the review of the Family Violence Act, and I welcome the publication of the review report. I should start by saying that this was not a review that was required by statute or from a motion that came from this place. The government initiated this review to make sure that we were keeping on top of where this legislation was up to and whether it was having the desired effect.

I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank Professor Lorana Bartels and Emeritus Professor Patricia Easteal for their work in conducting the review, as well as the professional stakeholders and the people with lived experience who participated in the review.

When the Family Violence Act was passed in 2016, the act implemented 22 key recommendations made in the joint report of the Australian Law Reform Commission and the New South Wales Law Reform Commission titled Family violence—a national legal response. It broadened the definition of family violence in the ACT to include coercive and controlling behaviours, provided for consistency with national family violence law reforms, and improved practice and procedure in family violence legal proceedings. These changes brought the ACT in line with national best practice at that time; but best practice can and should evolve over time to capture contemporary learnings and improved approaches. It is important that our policy and practice in the ACT reflect this.

At the time that the review was commissioned, the Family Violence Act had been operating for two years. The government initiated the review to gauge the extent to which the act had improved the protections and experience of victims of family violence and to inform the government on family violence work, going forward.

We did not commission the review to get a pat on the back, but to learn where fresh efforts might be required. We cannot bring forward new legislation and assume the job is done merely because it is best practice at the time. Commissioning this review is how the government finds the gaps in our framework, and gets on with fixing them. The government welcomes all of the findings and recommendations from the review, positive and negative. We cannot expect to make improvements without acknowledging what sometimes might be harsh truths. The review report finds that not all aspects of the act may be operating in practice as intended. That is not a finding from which the government or I will be shirking.

As to the wording of the motion, I note that many of the reforms are more practical than legislative. To quote the report, “The main reasons the amendments are seen as limited concern their implementation more than the actual drafting.” The review provides useful insights, including into the perceptions of those who work in the family violence sector and those with lived experience of family violence. Such insights are vital to help shape the ACT’s response to family violence now and into the future.

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