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Media conference – Melbourne

The Hon Mark Dreyfus KC MP
Transcript

E&OE

Subjects: Meeting of Attorneys-General; Coercive control; Jobs and skills summit; Seniors in the workforce; Attack on Salman Rushdie; Cheng Lei.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL MARK DREYFUS: I'm very proud that at the first Meeting of Attorneys-General under the Albanese Government we have agreed on a set of measures that are going to help to keep women and children safer in Australia. Those measures included agreeing a draft set of National Principles on Coercive Control, which, of course, is a pernicious set of behaviours that involves asserting dominance, where the perpetrator, not necessarily using violence, asserts control and dominance over the victim. It's not well recognised in the community and as the Attorneys-General of Australia, States and Territories with me agreed yesterday, we think it will help to establish a set of National Principles that will better enable people to recognise this behaviour when it occurs.

The Meeting also agreed on some other measures concerning continuing work on the way in which the criminal justice system responds to sexual violence and that, of course, is in response to requests that were made by Grace Tame last year of the Attorneys-General of Australia to do more work in this area. There are a whole range of other things that we discussed, including reforms to defamation law, progress on the Optional Protocol on the Convention Against Torture. All in all it was a very, very cooperative ministerial meeting and a very good start to what I think will be a continuing cooperative relationship between the Commonwealth and the States, and the State and Territory Attorneys-General, working together on law reform that we need to coordinate.

REPORTER: And what steps can be taken to better identify coercive control?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: The really important thing is that people understand how to recognise coercive control, how to see that, even in relationships where there's actually no physical violence occurring, that you can nevertheless have this pattern of abusive behaviour that is designed to dominate and control and can ultimately be very, very harmful. And as we've seen, from some shocking examples, it can lead to appalling events occurring.

REPORTER: Is it possible that there could be an actual offence of coercive control?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Some states are moving down that path. Other states have suggested that their criminal laws already enable charges to be laid, already enable a response to coercive control. Because we've got different criminal law in different States and Territories there might well be a different legal response, and we saw that yesterday. New South Wales has announced draft laws in this area, Queensland has announced that they are intending to legislate, other states believe that their own criminal laws already respond. What's important is that States and Territories work together to adopt these National Principles. That's why we published them arising from the meeting yesterday and that will, I think, move us in the direction where we get better recognition of this problem where it is occurring.

REPORTER: Can you just outline what those broad National Principles will be?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: There are eight National Principles. They talk about how to recognise coercive control when it occurs, how to listen to victim survivors who are experiencing coercive control. The importance of not assuming that abuse in family relationships is always necessarily going to involve violence, a recognition that it can be a completely non-violent set of interactions, but nevertheless, you've got this pattern of behaviour. That's the key to this, that coercive control involves a pattern of behaviour over time where the perpetrator is asserting dominance over the victim.

REPORTER: And I guess is it about identifying it before it gets to the stage of violent acts?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Absolutely. All of the experts in this area and the Principals talk about this, talk about the difficulty of recognising this pattern of behaviour when it's occurring. And I'd say again, it's important that it's understood that abusive behaviour, that family violence in a relationship, does not simply mean where physical violence has occurred. Quite often this coercive control pattern of behaviour involves no physical violence at all.

REPORTER: And there's some cultural barriers in certain communities to that need to be recognised?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Yes, and one of the matters that's dealt with in these National Principles to look for cultural differences and to understand the cultural context in which behaviours are occurring.

REPORTER:  And just on the sexual assault matter, how can the criminal justice system be strengthened against to better protect victims survivors?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: There's a whole range of ways in which the criminal justice system can be made better responsive. We need to protect people who come forward with allegations of sexual violence and sexual abuse. We need to protect victims from the problem of cross examination by an unrepresented perpetrator, in other words, a perpetrator who is not there with a lawyer. That's something that needs to be dealt with and that can be dealt with by courts adopting different procedures. There's a whole range of ways in which we can make the criminal law more responsive, better able to deal with sexual assault. Another, and this is an area where states have already moved, is affirmative consent, introducing a notion of affirmative consent in our sexual assault laws.

REPORTER: Good morning, Attorney-General. I wanted to ask on a national definition for coercive control, is the intention of yourself and maybe the next Meeting of the Attorneys-General to actually provide a definition for coercive control? How far off is that? And in the meantime, what are these measures do in a practical sense?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: What we need to do is to build awareness of coercive control and, taken as a whole, these eight draft National Principles are all designed to that end. It's to enable people in the community to recognise coercive control when it's occurring, to enable victim survivors to understand what a pattern of abuse over time that is coercive control looks like, and, by recognising it, I think we can start to deal with this problem. So that's the overall purpose of these National Principles that were released yesterday by the Attorneys-General of the Commonwealth and the States and Territories for consultation and that consultation will be taking place in coming months.

REPORTER: And after that consultation? Is that when we could see a firm definition or is this effectively already the definition?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: It's not so much about a definition as an approach. The purpose of having eight National Principles is that they deal with different aspects of this problem. They deal with how to identify coercive control, how to listen to victim survivors, what steps should be taken in order to reduce the incidence of this problem.

REPORTER: People who have found themselves advocates, people like Sue and Lloyd Clarke, have campaigned for national recognition, or for a national approach on this. Is this effectively a win for them? And what are the next steps going forward?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I think anyone who watched the interviews that Sue and Lloyd Clarke gave yesterday can hear the way in which they spoke about the fact that, tragically, with their daughter, that they were able to recognise that there was something wrong in the relationship that Hannah Clarke was enduring but because there had been no physical violence she had not identified it as a family violence situation, as an abusive relationship. I think by talking about coercive control, by talking about its features, we're going to be better able to understand that it forms part of the pattern, that it forms part of dealing with this dreadful scourge of family violence which we all, in order to keep women and children safe in Australia, would wish to do something about.

REPORTER: Attorney-General in the papers this morning, the long talked about plan to allow seniors to work more without having their pension penalised. Is that a good idea we're hearing is going to be taken to the jobs summit? What's the Government's position on that?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: The Government wants a bigger and better skilled workforce and, as my colleague the Treasurer, Jim Chalmers, has said, this idea about making it simpler for pensioners to participate in the workforce is certainly something that is going to be examined at the Jobs and Skills Summit.

REPORTER: I just heard you mentioning Hannah Clarke, was it the death of Hannah Clarke that drove the Attorneys-General to come together to fix this situation?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: The tragic death of Hannah Clark and her children has been absolutely a catalyst for action to be taken for the development of these draft National Principles on coercive control. But sadly, no one should think that the tragedy that occurred with Hannah Clarke and her children was an isolated incident and that's, of course, why we are taking this collective action. I'm very proud that at this first Meeting of Attorneys-General under the Albanese Labor Government that we have moved towards the adoption of these National Principles which are now out for consultation. It's not, sadly, an isolated incident. We know that coercive control is a widespread problem. We know that we need to do more to recognise this problem. That's what these draft National Principles are directed to.

REPORTER: Just on another topic now, what's your reaction to the attack on Salman Rushdie in New York overnight?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: This is shocking news about the attack on Salman Rushdie. I condemn it completely.

REPORTER: Considering how high profile and the highly controversial work he's done, was this sort of attack surprising to you?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: This is shocking news. Of course, the whole world will be wishing Mr Rushdie a speedy recovery from the shocking attack. All that one can say at present is that I condemn it and I'm sure every right thinking person in Australia would be condemning the news that we've heard this morning about Mr Rushdie.

REPORTER: It's the two year anniversary since the detainment of Australian journalist Cheng lei in China. Obviously, we've heard from the Chinese ambassador to Australia who says don't worry, her basic rights are being taken care of. As Attorney-General do you worry about her rights? And have you spoken to her family?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I personally haven't spoken to her family but all Australians who are in detention overseas are entitled to, and are provided with, consular assistance, with legal assistance where that's possible. And we will continue to ensure that all possible steps are made to ensure that she has access to legal representation where that's possible and that she has access to consular assistance.

REPORTER: Do you believe that her rights are being protected?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I can only say that our embassy in China is making all possible efforts to ensure that she is as well cared for as is possible.

REPORTER: Thank you very much.

[ENDS]