Domestic violence and technology facilitated abuse

In government Labor established the policy infrastructure needed to respond to family and domestic violence, and reduce violence against women and their children.

The national plan to reduce violence against women and their children commenced in 2010 and runs to 2022.

That plan has seen the establishment of Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety, and Our WATCh – the foundation to end violence against women and their children. It has also seen the establishment and expansion of the national counselling hotline 1800 RESPECT.

The plan and the work done to give effect to it has brought the national epidemic of family and domestic violence to the nation’s attention. It has generated political will needed to respond.

The subsequent appointment of Rosie Batty as 2015 Australian of the Year catalysed the swelling public sentiment and turned it into a national focus on family and domestic violence. I’m hopeful this year’s Australian of the Year, David Morrison, an Our WATCh ambassador and director, will continue to keep domestic violence in the spotlight.

But it hasn’t all been good news in the national effort to reduce family and domestic violence.

It’s not just that more needs to be done, though that’s true, and it is a shame that the Turnbull government has yet to table a response to the Senate Finance and Public Administration References Committee’s Report of August 2015, in relation to family and domestic violence.

It’s worse than that: the Turnbull government’s cuts are undermining the nation’s response to family and domestic violence.

There have been cuts in the order of tens of millions of dollars from community legal centres, legal aid commissions and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services. There’s been a cut of $44 million each year, for the capital expenditure component of homelessness services.

The Turnbull government’s failure to adequately resource the family law courts is a national disgrace and is directly affecting victims and survivors of family and domestic violence.

This government needs to do better. Unfortunately, on family and domestic violence, as in so many other areas, the Turnbull government’s words aren’t reflected in their actions. The Turnbull government says one thing, and does another. It’s not good enough.

It’s also not good enough that the government’s in here with a motion about technology facilitated abuse at the same time as they are refusing to legislate to make so-called “revenge porn” a crime.

In their report of October 2015, Digital Harassment and Abuse of Adult Australians, RMIT researchers Anastasia Powell and Nicola Henry said

“1 in 10 Australians reported that someone had posted online or sent onto others a nude or semi-nude image of them without their permission.”

The Member for Gellibrand and I have tabled a bill to for a specific criminal offence in relation to the circulation of intimate images and videos without consent. We have called on the government to support our bill, both publicly and by letter of October last year.

Incredibly, in January this year, the Minister for Women wrote to us refusing to support our bill and instead putting it on the backburner until COAG provides a comprehensive response to technology facilitated abuse.

We say that there is no need to wait any longer.

In November the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee commenced an inquiry into so-called “revenge porn”.

Support for legislating a specific measure, such as the one proposed in our private member’s bill, can be found in a submission to that inquiry from the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.

The submission stated:

There are limitations on existing Commonwealth laws to adequately deal with ‘revenge porn’ conduct. In limited situations, the CDPP observes that there may be coverage of such conduct by an offence contra 474.17(1). However, such situations will be uncommon.

Obviously there are other forms of technology facilitated abuse – like the covert installation of spying apps to read your partner’s messages and track her movements.

But the fact that other responses may be needed as well does not remove the need to act decisively and swiftly on so-called “revenge porn”.

The harm that can be done when someone circulates intimate pictures or videos of a current or former partner – or when they threaten to do so – is obvious.

Passing our bill right now would demonstrate to the community that the leadership of this country is serious about stopping this abuse.

So, while I support the sentiments in this motion, sentiment is not enough. It will be gravely disappointing if this turns out to be just another example of the Turnbull government saying one thing, but doing another.

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