Prevention of Family Violence Bill 2018 | Second Reading

Ms SULEYMAN (St Albans) (17:05:49) — I rise today to speak on the Prevention of Family Violence Bill 2018. This bill will establish an independent family violence prevention agency called Respect Victoria, which is a first for Australia and quite frankly groundbreaking in this area. This is about making sure that this agency will be independent and will undertake research, provide community engagement and report back to government regardless of the political cycle. Most importantly, Respect Victoria will evaluate family violence in all forms every three years and also report to the minister and to Parliament.

Today and in the last four years in particular we have heard tragic and horrific stories of family violence. There is no doubt that the first thing that we did once elected to government was to establish the Royal Commission into Family Violence in Victoria. There is no doubt that the royal commission heard and received many submissions, including one from me on behalf of my electorate of St Albans.

Once the royal commission was concluded it made 227 recommendations. I am extremely proud of this government, which has committed to implementing each and every one of those 227 recommendations. We have so far delivered on the 188th recommendation of the Royal Commission into Family Violence, and there is no doubt that the Andrews Labor government is leading the nation when it comes to dealing with family violence.

Like previous speakers on this side of the house, I would also like to acknowledge the late Fiona Richardson, the then minister, who really led the way when it came to the prevention of family violence in this state. I recall that shortly after I was elected to Parliament one of my first tasks was to host a forum together with the member for Footscray, who is here in the chamber today. Fiona was the guest speaker, and she came out to Footscray just after the tragic death — and I will talk about it later — that occurred in Sunshine. We heard from stakeholders that evening. I recall it was a very cold evening, and Fiona spoke about her own experiences. She also made those stakeholders and people, females, who were there but who were not able to express themselves feel very comfortable that evening to actually talk about their own experiences. It was really important to Fiona to make people feel comfortable enough to tell their story.

Today we are seeing Fiona’s legacy. I know that she would be extremely proud because this is one of the things she had always spoken about: having an independent, standalone agency that is able to perform its duties. It is now enshrined in legislation and will no doubt outlast all of us. Regardless of the political cycle, this agency will be here to support and most of all protect and develop programs and support mechanisms for our nieces, our daughters, our mums, our sisters, our grandmothers and generations of women to come.

As I have previously said, we have seen some pretty tragic stories and articles lately about women who faced family violence: Snezana Stojanovska, 26 and three months pregnant; Karen Ristevski, 47; Samantha Fraser, 38; and Joy Rowley, 60. These women were just like any one of us in this place — living their lives, working, providing for their families and being a part of loving communities. But all so tragically their lives were cut short. There are countless other women whose stories do not make it into the media whose lives have been tragically lost. We have an obligation to make sure that the appropriate safeguards and mechanisms are there for women and young girls to be able to feel safe and protected in our communities.

As I previously noted, within the first few months of having been elected to Parliament I was faced with the tragic and horrific story of what happened in Sunshine in the heart of my electorate. It impacts on everyone. It impacts on people of all colours and religions, no matter what postcode they live in. Fiona Warzywoda was tragically killed as a result of family violence in a very public place in the heart of Sunshine, on Hampshire Road just down from the Sunshine Magistrates Court. The events of that day will probably be with me for a very long time.

Here was a woman who was out walking, having just that day come out of the Sunshine Magistrates Court. She was a mother; she had four children. She was escaping and trying to get protection from the court from her dangerous ex-partner. She walked out from the Sunshine Magistrates Court and walked onto a Sunshine shopping strip. Unfortunately on the day she had gained an intervention order against her former partner and in a public place, in broad daylight while many were shopping and going about their day-to-day chores, in front of dozens of witnesses, her ex-partner — I will not go on to what happened, but ultimately —

An honourable member interjected.

Ms SULEYMAN — Absolutely, and she died then and there on Hampshire Road. It really does say so much about Fiona’s death and the public outcry that paralysed my community after that — to have someone stepping out from Sunshine Magistrates Court, having been granted an intervention order against her ex-partner, and being murdered by that ex-partner in broad daylight. As I said, there are many, many stories that do not make it to the media but that we hear about where women are tragically killed by their current partner or ex-partner.

Quite frankly, Respect Victoria is another mechanism to make sure that we continue the legacy left by the former minister, and the current minister has really taken on this matter and made sure that all 227 of the royal commission’s recommendations will help build a culture of respect in our communities. By establishing Respect Victoria, this bill will be taking another step towards addressing family violence and violence against women in every aspect. It does not necessarily need to be physical. There are a number of steps to eliminate violence in our community.

I believe the media has an enormous role to play in this as well. The attitudes of men against women also need to change and develop, because for far too long we have heard men making all sorts of comments — it could be even a joke — against women. This needs to be called out, and there needs to be an equal playing field. On that note, I really do want to thank the current minister for all her work in this area. She has led the way in relation to family violence. I commend the development of Respect Victoria, and I commend the bill to the house.

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