Coalition's coercive control bill need greater sector consultation

Abigail questioned the Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence on the failure to establish an implementation task force to inform the Government's draft coercive control bill. 

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (12:13): My question is directed to the Minister for Women's Safety and the Prevention of Domestic and Sexual Violence. The Joint Select Committee on Coercive Control, which the Minister chaired, recommended that an implementation task force be established to manage the introduction of a criminal offence of coercive control. The task force would be responsible for, among other things, consulting with various stakeholders about the text of any draft coercive control bill. Why has the Government instead released a draft bill with a rushed consultation period, and without the implementation task force that would have ensured that we got this important reform right and minimised any unintended consequences?

The Hon. NATALIE WARD (Minister for Metropolitan Roads, and Minister for Women's Safety and the Prevention of Domestic and Sexual Violence) (12:17): I thank the honourable member for her question and her interest in this area. I was privileged to work with the member on the joint select committee inquiry into coercive control, which was a nine-month process undertaken from October 2020. I was privileged to chair that inquiry, but members were from both Houses. We came to 23 unanimous recommendations, which included the criminalisation of coercive control. That report was tabled, and the Government has responded and supported in full, in principle or in part 17 of the recommendations, with six for further consideration.

The Government response supports the criminalisation of coercive control in former and current intimate partner relationships and supports in principle the creation of a definition. As part of the inquiry, we undertook successive and extensive consultation, including going to the regions to ensure that we were meeting with stakeholders directly. The Government is committed to developing and consulting on this reform with stakeholders, which is why on 20 July 2022, when it released the exposure draft of the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Coercive Control) Bill 2022, it was for public consultation.

The exposure draft gives effect to the commitments to introduce the reforms, but I note that the Government has provided an opportunity for people to have their say through the Have Your Say website, which is available and closes on 31 August on this matter. Feedback is welcomed from the community and sectors on whether the draft bill will meet its purpose to criminalise coercive control in intimate partner settings and how that might be improved. In addition, the domestic and family violence sector, as the member highlighted, has indicated that it will seek longer consultation and is arguing for a longer period to properly interrogate the reform. We note that there has been extensive consultation already. Recommendation 1 said:

Following drafting and legislation of such an offence, and prior to commencement …

It is important to note that it was very clear, and Government members were deliberate in our response that, prior to commencement, the implementation should be assisted through a multi-agency task force. The thinking is to have had the inquiry, to introduce the legislation and then to have a substantive period during which there can be that implementation task force working with the sector so that we can see, during that time, what the legislation looks like once it has been through this House and the other place. So we are working together with the sector. We heard clearly that the implementation would be one of the most important parts of the success of this legislation.

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (12:17): I ask a supplementary question. I thank the Minister for her detailed response. I listened carefully to see if she responded to the part of my question relating to the subsequent recommendation, which was to actually shepherd consultation through the task force. I ask the Minister to elucidate on her answer and to let me know why that particular recommendation has not been followed.

The Hon. NATALIE WARD (Minister for Metropolitan Roads, and Minister for Women's Safety and the Prevention of Domestic and Sexual Violence) (12:17): It is important to note as a starting point that the Government very much values the input of stakeholders. That is why we undertook a comprehensive inquiry in the first place, prior to the drafting of this exposure bill. We value the sector's insights. We look forward to working with them closely and receiving the contributions of constituent members through the stakeholder round tables and any submissions that they wish to make during August.

It is important that the Have Your Say process be allowed to be fully undertaken throughout August. I can confirm to the House that this is the fourth round of extensive consultation the Government has undertaken on coercive control over the past three years alone. The Government was clear that it wanted to support the recommendation about the implementation task force, and it has done so. In addition, regarding recommendation 15, I note that the Government response was that it would further consider consultation. It did not specify that further consideration would occur prior to the introduction of the legislation.

The Government position has been clear. We have had the inquiry. It is important that we allow for stakeholder consultation, which is occurring now. We are very clear about that. That should be undertaken. But we ultimately want to get on with the job of criminalising coercive control, which is why we will be introducing that legislation. I look forward to bringing it to the House, and to the contributions of all members, to make sure that we can save some people's lives and recognise that insidious crime.

The Hon. WALT SECORD (12:19): I ask a second supplementary question. Will the Minister elucidate her answers with regard to the repeated references she made in both answers to consultations with stakeholders? As part of those consultations, what support is the Government providing for training for police to identify trends to spot coercive control and to assist them so that, when they need to enforce the law, they know how to go about collecting evidence?

The Hon. NATALIE WARD (Minister for Metropolitan Roads, and Minister for Women's Safety and the Prevention of Domestic and Sexual Violence) (12:19): I thank the honourable member for his interest in this area. We heard extensively throughout the inquiry about the need for education. We were very clear that the success of criminalising coercive control will rely on implementation by the police and education to ensure that those gathering evidence of a repeated pattern of behaviour can do so, rather than the current incident‑based response of police.

Government members have recognised that, and it will form part of what we will be undertaking. We are very clear that we need to ensure that we are really resourcing police during the implementation period and are working to understand and educate the sector to gather that information properly and to identify the pattern of behaviour over time that can form coercive control in a number of ways, very often financial or psychological control. There are a range of opportunities for us to put together a real picture of what is happening to that victim-survivor in the circumstances, and that will be a key component of it.


See the full transcript in Harsard, here. 

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