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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 7 Hansard (22 September) . . Page.. 1986 ..

MR HUMPHRIES (continuing):

Mr Speaker, it is obviously important that domestic violence legislation be a well-oiled machine capable of operating without a glitch and without technical difficulty whenever it is required. Nothing is more disturbing in this field than to see a person risk their own safety - we are talking here particularly about women and children - by seeking orders in a court, bearing in mind that very often the seeking of an order, by itself, is an escalation of a conflict between spouses or between partners and in those circumstances can constitute a risk to the person who seeks the order, and then finding that the legislation underpinning the provisions of the order is defective in some way or there is some loophole or some problem in being able to get an order. That is a situation which this legislation is designed to avoid.

A person who believes they need that support, that protection, deserves it, if the conviction is genuine and the fear is real. In those circumstances it is most important that we have legislation which is comprehensive and which does not let people down. Mr Speaker, from that point of view, the definition of domestic violence which the legislation inserts is quite significant. As has been pointed out, it widens the way in which the definition of domestic violence is couched. It includes conduct which is harassing or offensive towards a relevant person.

I think we can all think of ways in which such conduct may well constitute a threat or an implied threat to another person. For example, a person who comes at another person with a stick or a clenched fist clearly poses a direct threat of domestic violence to that person in this setting. But a person who, for example, smashes the windows of another person's car probably does not come within the present definition of committing an act of domestic violence. By the same token, such an act very clearly sends a signal to another person about what they might expect if something does not happen, if some conduct does not change or some approach or attitude does not differ. It is important to make sure that where any reasonable person, or even a person under considerable pressure, feels a genuine expectation of some adverse consequence to them of a physical nature the legislation is capable of cutting in to protect them and offer them the chance to obtain an order.

I also have received representations from the Lone Fathers Association and I have heard what they have had to say. I have written back to them setting out in detail why I am not inclined to support the view that they take about the provisions of this legislation. If members are interested, I am very happy to let them see a copy of that letter so that they can understand the Government's response to the issues the Lone Fathers Association have raised.

I do concede one point which I think in some ways the Lone Fathers Association overlooked when they prepared their response to this legislation. It is possible in a number of circumstances for the very extensive protections available in such legislation to be misused. Indeed, it is not only possible but in fact the case that the legislation is sometimes misused to obtain orders. Sometimes orders are obtained for tactical reasons within the circumstances of a deteriorating relationship. People will sometimes seek an order in order to strengthen their capacity, for example, to obtain custody of children or sometimes to obtain some advantage in other proceedings against a spouse.

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