Parliament Updates

Zali Steggall presents motion calling for a step-change in response to domestic violence

16 May 2024


I move:

That the House:

(1) notes that:

(a) currently in Australia, one woman every 4 days is murdered by her current or former partner and 2.3 million Australian women have experienced violence from an intimate partner;

(b) as of 16 May 2024, at least 28 women have been allegedly murdered by their male partner in Australia;

(c) the rate of women killed by an intimate partner in Australia increased by nearly 30% in 2022-23, compared to the previous year despite the National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children 2022-2032 being in effect; and

(2) calls on the Government to:

(a) an immediate boost of $1 billion in annual funding for frontline services for domestic, family and sexual violence, including crisis services, refuges and emergency housing;

(b) immediately increase funding to Legal Aid by $484 million to allow more women to access the legal help they require and Women's Legal Services Australia by $25 million to allow more women to access the legal help they require;

(c) undertake an immediate national review of sentencing laws, with a special focus on strengthening state and territory level responses with use of AVOs, electronic monitoring of domestic violence and sexual assault offenders, and removal of character references during sentencing in domestic violence cases;

(d) establish a national database to record all those convicted of family, domestic and sexual violence offences;

(e) establish a national mechanism to track family, domestic and sexual violence deaths across all states and territories to identify red flags and risk factors.

(f) Fund community education and prevention work consistently including respectful relationships education to bring about culture change.

I thank the Leader of the House and the opposition for allowing this motion to be moved. I am angry. Australian women are angry. They are frustrated and they are tired. Too many women are being killed by men, by domestic violence from current and former intimate partners. It is a national crisis and it needs an emergency response. Sixty-four women were killed by domestic violence in Australia in 2023. So far in 2024, according to Destroy the Joint, at least 28 women have allegedly been killed by domestic violence. That means on average in Australia one women is murdered by her current or former partner every four days. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are three times more likely to experience violence than non-Indigenous women, 11 more times likely to die due to assault and 34 times more likely to be hospitalised as a result of that violence.

When two young men died in New South Wales, the New South Wales government introduced urgent mandatory sentences for one-punch attacks. When it was terrorism, the laws were changed urgently to jail people on apprehended risks of crime. That is the urgency we seek. But when Australian men kill Australian women, the government national plan is to take 10 years. I appreciate there is much sentiment to the work on this, but what we need is a crisis response—this is a crisis situation—a mobilisation of resources, urgent legislation. Business as usual is simply not good enough. This week we have had the handing down of the budget and we cannot have a situation where we move on from that to a situation where there is more of the same. So many services, so many people are desperately looking to this place, to all of us here, to make the change needed, to increase the urgency, to respond to a crisis with that kind of emergency response.

Instead, when another woman becomes a domestic violence statistic, we continue to witness sympathy and handwringing. I'm not saying that is not genuine. But we always talk about it being complex and it will take time, and I don't disagree. The why, the cause, behind this is complex, and culture change will take time. But there are very real levers to keep women safe now that can be pulled immediately and that is what I want to speak about.

We need an urgent injection of funding for legal aid services, for front-line services. We need to urgently look at this problem. Whilst the national cabinet came together, there were many disappointed that there were no urgent immediate actions that we could really grasp and say, 'This will change women's safety now. This will keep women safe. It will keep them alive.'

It is so common that I am sure every member in this place has heard from services in their electorates that they are turning away more and more women every week. This can be stopped and it can be stopped now. We hear repeatedly about court processes that fail. Every time there is an horrific murder, we hear from the investigation that ensues that time and time again the processes have failed. But there is no collation of that and there is no change in the laws. We have not come in here and seen any immediate changes.

Access to legal aid and legal services are essential in interactions with the courts. I know that; I have been there as an advocate—as a barrister. This is a lever that the government can pull now and it could have pulled it in its budget, but it didn't. Many walked away disappointed by that. Urgent additional funding can be allocated now. At the very least, if we aren't going to change the laws and the sentencing laws immediately, and get the states to agree to do that, then we should equip them with legal aid—with some advice—so they can at least engage with the legal system and get it to work to its best advantage. These changes can be made now, they can be done quickly and they can save women's lives.

While I have been in this place we've had condolences and we've had moments where everyone is sorry and commits to work and do better. But what we need to do urgently is to challenge the laws which are failing to keep women safe and to make that urgent injection of funding. What else is the government, is the parliament, here for but to keep the community safe? It's ultimately that social licence—the absolute commitment. It's why there is so much support for huge spends on the defence budget; it's because we agree as a society that we keep our community safe. But women within our community are not safe; we are not safe within it.

So I'm calling on the federal government to commit an extra billion dollars a year to frontline services—to commit to long-term funding of those services to ensure they stop turning women away and that they have sufficient space, beds, crisis services, community education and ongoing consistent prevention work. It's why I was so disappointed and frustrated with the budget: there was nothing new announced. Whilst I welcome the small support that there is for individual women who can access the Staying Home Leaving Violence support, more is needed.

Domestic violence is estimated to cost the economy some one to two per cent of GDP. In the words of Dr Angela Jackson, that gives us a measure of the sense of urgency and of the scale of the response that we should be committing to to ensure we are saving that money—saving that lost GDP—by investing in the services that will produce the outcomes we want. One to two per cent of GDP is $50-odd billion which we are losing because of this scourge. We can save that money by putting the kind of money that's needed into frontline services and legal aid. That sense of urgency is what we are calling for.

I welcome that everyone is noting that in this debate, but we then need to see progress. So many NGOs desperately want to see that action from the government. It is fantastic to see bipartisan support in acknowledging the scale of the problem but we now need to move to that step change. We've seen positive developments this week in New South Wales. They are now committed to fully funding Staying Home Leaving Violence across the state. This program has been shown to work but it hasn't been delivered in every LGA. Of course the northern beaches completely missed out, but that is now going to change. Warringah will be included and it will save women's lives. In Warringah, northern beaches women's shelters are currently turning away approximately 25 women each month because they're full. They have applied for more funding to ensure they can grow their facilities under the Safer Place program, but they have been rejected because they don't fit within the bureaucratic boundaries and guidelines within that program. They are funded to help 208 women a year, and last year they helped some 836. So we need to get past the bureaucratic system that's preventing them from being able to provide more.

The Safe Places Inclusion Round is a great initiative, but it's useless if it doesn't deliver the funding. So I call on everyone in this place: please, let's move to save women's lives.