Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2021 Week 03 Hansard (Tuesday, 30 March 2021) . . Page.. 620 ..
In 2015, when I rose in this place to pay tribute to Tara Costigan, I spoke of her as a mother, a daughter, a granddaughter, a niece, a cousin, an aunt, a sister and a colleague to many. She was symbolic of any mother, daughter, granddaughter, niece, sister, cousin, aunt, friend or colleague to any of us, and she became, in Canberra, the public face of domestic and family violence and the terrible, terrible toll that it takes in our community.
This huge groundswell of shock and anger in the ACT led the ACT government to rewrite its Family Violence Act and, with funds from the new domestic violence levy, the ACT government rolled out a suite of new policies. This was a proportionate, measured, considered, consultative response.
The focus shifted to the frontline—police, health workers and others likely to come into contact with those most vulnerable to domestic violence—but recently we heard what many people on this side of the chamber feared the most, that a two-year review into the new Family Violence Act determined that it is not operating as intended and recommended that it be significantly reformed. I quote:
… most of the lived experience participants did not feel protected by the legislation and many professional stakeholders were at best equivocal in their responses about the protection of [family violence] victims.
Amongst numerous criticisms in the report are warnings from workers in the sector that police are not, in some cases, applying for emergency after-hours orders because of a reluctance to call magistrates late at night, and concerns that children at risk are being left out of family violence orders because it can be too complicated for them to be included.
Perhaps worst of all is that the ACT government had this report for pretty much a year and, because of highly critical comments made of a government agency, the directorate eventually re-engaged the researchers. The report was then formally accepted in December, then quietly published last month after the government was pretty much forced to release it under the freedom of information laws.
To recap, we have the events of 2015 which sparked such anger from ACT residents and really kickstarted the conversation about family violence in our community. It brought it up out of a personal and family problem into a societal problem. And we had a huge appetite for change in the ACT community. Now we have a review which was held back and kept quiet. What a coincidence that the largest part of that was an election year! Perhaps the government did not want any distractions to get in its way. This is a failure in the basic duty of a government to its citizens. It is unconscionable.
It is a betrayal also of the fantastic services that we have here in the ACT and the work that they do. It is unfathomable to me that, in a year that domestic violence increased significantly during the shutdown of the pandemic, this government would choose politics over the distribution of information that could have helped community organisations, members of the public and frontline services in the fight against domestic and family violence.