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Public Interest Debate - Domestic and Family Violence

Mr MICHAEL REGAN (Wakehurst) (17:03): I move:

That this House:

(1)Notes that Saturday 25 November is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and that the sixth annual "Let's end domestic violence" vigil is being held this Friday night outside Customs House from 4.00 p.m. to 5.00 p.m.

(2)Recognises domestic and family violence remains prevalent within society. Six women were killed across Australia over a 10-day period in October 2023.

(3)Calls on the New South Wales Government to:

(a)consider increasing funding for specialist domestic and family violence services;

(b)finalise the New South Wales primary prevention strategy and fund primary prevention services and programs;

(c)investigate expanding the Staying Home Leaving Violence program; and

(d)work with the Federal Government to create more incentives for private home owners and property investors to rent their properties to victims of domestic violence.

I move the motion to draw attention to the scourge of domestic violence we face in New South Wales and indeed across the country. This is a non-political, bipartisan call to action to eliminate domestic violence full stop. It is timely that we turn our minds to this serious topic. The month of October saw a spike in deaths associated with domestic violence. Recent incidents included the tragic murder of Lilie James, a 21-year-old woman working at St Andrew's Cathedral School, of which members would be all too aware of. Saturday 25 November is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The sixth annual "Let's end domestic violence" vigil is being held this Friday night outside Customs House, as mentioned, between 4.00 p.m. to 5.00 p.m. I encourage everyone to attend.

The shocking death toll is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to domestic violence. In 2022 over 33,000 domestic violence-related assault incidents were recorded by the NSW Police Force. That is before intimidation, stalking and harassment are included, or the unknowable—but certainly high—amount of unreported abuse. In 2016 an estimated 17 per cent of Australian women aged 18 years and over—or 1.6 million women—had experienced violence by a partner known to them since the age of 15 years. In the five years to December 2021, 43 per cent of all New South Wales murders were related to domestic violence. These are shocking figures from across our State—rural, regional and metro. But statistics cannot communicate the weight of the human suffering caused by domestic violence, which is hiding in plain sight in every single electorate across this State. It is only when you hear individual stories and the experiences of police and specialist domestic violence providers on the ground that you come to understand the gravity and urgency of this crisis.

My interest in the topic comes from my exposure to and admiration for the work of specialist domestic violence services on the northern beaches, through the many dedicated organisations that operate cooperatively as the Northern Beaches Domestic Violence Network. I welcome leaders from that network here today. I also acknowledge those joining us online, CEO Delia Donovan and her staff at Domestic Violence NSW, which is the peak body for specialist domestic and family violence services in New South Wales. Service providers tell me that women's refuges—where women and children go to escape violent households—are almost always full. Women and Children First, for example, who service northern Sydney, are funded to support 208 women per year but last financial year assisted 836. Just four months into the 2024 financial year and they have already assisted 220 women. This does not include the Northern Beaches Women's Shelter, which is down the road.

In listening to service providers, I hear devastating stories of women being brutally physically and psychologically abused, often for years and years. The plight of children in these circumstances breaks one's heart. When they leave, they face the enormous practical and emotional challenges of finding accommodation, navigating the criminal justice system and rebuilding their lives when the cost of living is sky high. This is not how we should treat women or children in modern Australia. The prevalence of domestic violence is a national disgrace, but being outraged is not enough. Federal and State governments must deliver solutions commensurate with the scale of the problem. Our specialist domestic and family violence services are critically underfunded. The New South Wales Government—in addition to the Federal Government—needs to step up.

Stopping domestic violence starts by raising our kids in a culture that supports healthy, respectful relationships and respect for women. This is a shared task for all parents, teachers and adult role models. Most importantly, this involves leading by example. This includes the language and behaviour we use in Parliament. Clearly the State has a crucial role to play in eliminating domestic violence. A comprehensive response must address all stages outlined in the National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children: prevention, early intervention, response, and recovery and healing.

The New South Wales Government is yet to release the standalone Primary Prevention Strategy, due by the end of 2023. Today I am calling on the Government to finalise the strategy and also to commit to providing funding to primary prevention services and programs across New South Wales. Domestic Violence NSW has recently called for a $20 million investment for domestic and family violence prevention initiatives. Effective support at the time of crisis directly saves lives. I welcome the Core and Cluster Program, which is delivering additional secure housing and specialist support, including on the northern beaches. Tranche 2 of the program has recently been open for applications, and I note the concern among the sector about how successful applicants are being decided. This significant investment should go to specialist domestic and family violence services. I have requested a meeting with the Minister to discuss this more.

I take a moment to talk here about the Staying Home Leaving Violence program run by the NSW Department of Communities and Justice. The program flips the paradigm that the victim must leave the family home to escape abuse by working in cooperation with the police to remove the perpetrator. This means the woman can stay in her home and maintain connections to schools, family and community. Surely that is the best outcome. The success of this program has been widely acknowledged, including as recently as last week when it received an honourable mention in the Premier's Awards for Excellence in service delivery. Unfortunately, the Staying Home Leaving Violence program only operates in some parts of the State. I have added my voice to calls to have this transformational program expanded, including in northern Sydney. That is why I mention it specifically in today's debate. If refuges are full and if finding affordable rentals is next to impossible—as it is on the beaches and elsewhere in Sydney and across the regions—then what are the options for women suffering in oppressive, dangerous relations?

The Staying Home Leaving Violence program offers genuine and better pathways that should be accessible for all women and children. For victims to recover and heal, they need security. Long-term housing is key to that. There is real scope for more creativity in how we incentivise private home owners and property investors to preferentially rent properties to women fleeing domestic violence. I urge the Government to work with the Federal Government to consider tax incentives that will facilitate that. We must all step up to fix domestic violence. This is a crisis. Members of Parliament have an important role to play in making sure constituents know where to get support, advocating for this need to be met in our communities and holding the Government to account. That is what I hope to do today with this public interest debate.

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