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Radio interview – ABC Melbourne Drive

The Hon Mark Dreyfus KC MP
Transcript

E&OE

Subjects: Violence against women.

ALI MOORE: A special forum tomorrow on this program on Drive looking at how to stop men's violence against women. It starts after five o'clock. But also tomorrow National Cabinet is meeting. They're talking about what is a national crisis and of course tomorrow night around Melbourne and regional Victoria, various buildings will be lit up as part of National Domestic Violence Remembrance Day. So what will National Cabinet have on the agenda? We heard earlier about the need for more funding for national legal assistance. The Federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has ruled out holding a Federal Royal Commission. He says the government should instead focus on implementing policies it's already identified. Mark Dreyfus, welcome to Drive.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL MARK DREYFUS: Thank you very much for having me.

MOORE: Let's start with that decision to rule out a Royal Commission because policies have already been identified. I guess many would welcome that because they're sick of talking. On the other hand, I guess, why are there policies that are still on the table if they've been identified? Should they not be implemented?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I think that we've got a lot of policies that we're already implementing. We've got many in train. We want to see how they develop. We want to examine whether or not more resources need to be put into those steps that we've already taken. I went to the Melbourne rally on Sunday, walked side by side with the Premier and many of my federal and state parliamentary colleagues, standing side by side with my community to say enough is enough. And quite a lot of people actually commented to me that they don't want to see a Royal Commission. Many experts in the field say they don't want to see a Royal Commission they want to see action. They want to see more resources. They want to see us working harder together in the collaboration that we know is needed between federal and state governments.

MOORE: That goes to my point, I guess, that people are thinking, well, you've got the policies, you've identified the policies, what more can you do to ensure those policies are put in place? I know you're talking about committing $2.3 billion towards measures since you've come to office and if you look at the numbers just since you've come to office, I mean, not in any way that I'm blaming your government, but 56 women killed in 2022, 64 women killed last year and of course, you know the numbers for this year. It seems to be getting worse, not better.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: And the statistics on intimate partner homicide that were released this morning from the Institute of Criminology confirm that, even though the overall homicide rate has gone down, we know we've got to do more. Every single one of those deaths has caused grief and ongoing heartache for the families of those who are lost. But we've done a lot already I suppose I want to say Ali. We've put in place family violence leave of ten days for Australian workers. We've extended the single parenting benefit from children at age eight to go up to children at age 14 because we know that many women are faced with that choice between leaving the abusive relationship and throwing their children into poverty or being able to survive and that's why extending that parenting benefit is important. We've got a National Action Plan to end violence against women which started in 2022. Many of the measures there are still getting started. My colleagues, the Minister for Women, Katy Gallagher, the Minister for Social Services, Amanda Rishworth, the Prime Minister and I are all working on this. The Prime Minister's convened a National Cabinet meeting for tomorrow with First Ministers and I'm looking forward to seeing what more can be agreed on. But it demonstrates the level of urgency and the level of importance that we are attaching to this.

MOORE: Will there be, though, concrete things out of National Cabinet because I've read that National Action Plan. It's an overarching national policy. It's designed to be a framework, it's designed to be a guide. It's very general. It's not '$100 million will go to this service to achieve this outcome'. It's about aims and an overarching framework. People are looking for really specific answers. Will they get them out of National Cabinet tomorrow?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I think we'll get some direct commitments from National Cabinet tomorrow on things that the Federal Government and the state governments can do together. Some actions in this area are Federal Government alone. A lot of the measures in my portfolio, things like amendments to the Family Law Act, which we have done since coming to office in 2022. I've introduced, under the Family Law Act, information sharing between state and territory child welfare authorities and the Family Court. All that's a measure designed to improve safety for vulnerable people and children. I've got further amendments coming to allow family violence to be taken into account in property divisions under the Family Law Act. I've got an Australian Law Reform Commission inquiry into justice responses to sexual violence, which is a very urgent inquiry, it's going to report in February next year. And I've done a whole lot of things with the Attorneys-General of the states and territories. Things like agreeing, which we did last year, on national principles to address coercive control so that we've got a national set of principles which states are going to legislate on, perhaps in slightly different ways, but there's agreement about what coercive control looks like. And I am looking forward to a renewed urgency that I think is going to come from this meeting of First Ministers tomorrow.

MOORE: Backed by action? So, if you do expect some concrete outcomes out of tomorrow, and I'm assuming that - one should never assume, I don't think you're going to tell me what you're going to announce tomorrow - but what areas will they fall into? Because this is one of those areas where much is in the states' purview and some is in the federal purview. So what sort of areas might be addressed?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I certainly think that in the legal area we've been working for quite some time now on making sure that intervention or intervention orders as they are called in Victoria or apprehended violence orders, as they are called in other states are properly recognised. So that a woman who's escaping violence, gone to another state, has already got an order against her abusive partner that she's escaping from, doesn't need to get the order reregistered in the next state. That general recognition is something that is not quite perfected. We need to work harder on that. I'm looking at the resources that are to be given for women's legal services, poor family violence services, and it may well be that we can agree that more resources are needed there.

MOORE: We interviewed just before the head of those who provide legal aid, they say they need more than $300 million to meet the increasing demand that they are not able to service the demand that there is at the moment.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We've known for years that there is unmet demand for access to justice and that's why I had a review done of the National Legal Assistance Partnership. I have the report, I'm expecting to be able to release that report shortly. I'm in discussions with the states and territories about what the arrangements between the Commonwealth and the states for legal assistance for access to justice look like when the National Legal Assistance Partnership, that is currently underway, which goes for five years, ends on the 30th of June 2025. So that's a big discussion. We are very aware of the importance of women's legal services, of the importance of legal aid commissions being there so that when a woman goes to the court to seek an intervention order, she's able to get assistance. That when there's a breach of the intervention order, there's assistance provided. We know from the Victorian experience that more work can be done in training police. More work can be done in getting specialised police on the job. That's happened in Victoria, it hasn't happened to the same extent in other states. And I think that there will be a discussion tomorrow about policing. I know that at the upcoming Police Ministers Council, which I convene, which is a meeting of me as the Commonwealth Police Minister and the state and territory police ministers, we will be discussing domestic and family violence issues.

MOORE: You're listening to Mark Dreyfus, who is the Federal Attorney-General, we're talking about tomorrow's National Cabinet meeting and what more can be done to stop men's violence against women. A couple of, I suppose, more specific questions if you like. One is around data. The saying goes that you can't manage what you can't measure and trying to find information about how many women have died at the hands of men is not easy. Trying to find up to date information you might get some but it might go back to say, 2021. It seems that it is the advocacy network, which is just a private group, the Counting Dead Women Australia, seems to have the most up to date information. Is there an issue here with just the way that we have to know the statistics before we can deal with them?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: In November last year I announced that we're going to have implemented a new statistical dashboard which is going to provide more timely reporting on intimate partner homicide.

MOORE: And when will that be ready?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: It's going to have quarterly updates initially and I'm hoping that it can be brought to a more near real time reporting. It'll enable government and policy makers and police and all of those who are working to end violence against women and children to better understand what's happening.

MOORE: And when will it be actually accessible?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Very soon. It's an announcement that I made last November and it's going to start with quarterly updates and go to a more real time, I'm hoping, later this year.

MOORE: You also talked earlier about intervention orders and not having to get one every time you move states so there's some sort of crossover there. One of the issues with the intervention orders is they, I guess this is possibly the wrong way of putting it, but they're not categorised. So you might get a breach of an intervention order for something like sending an email or you might get a breach of an intervention order for stalking, do you think that they have enough information in them for appropriate decisions to be able to be made? Should we be having level one, level two, level three?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: That's a really good example of why we've got to constantly be looking and looking again and re-examining measures that we've got as part of our system. Remember that decades ago, we didn't have intervention orders at all, or apprehended violence orders. There was no mechanism where a woman who felt at risk from an abusive partner could go and seek some intervention in this way. Now there is. It might be that we need to look at fine tuning as you just suggested - and I've heard others make this suggestion - as to different forms of order. I know that of course, orders are tailor-made. When a woman approaches the court for an intervention order in Victoria, or an apprehended violence order in New South Wales or varying different names in different states, the court looks hard at the situation then decides what level of protection is required.

MOORE: By the conditions attached to the order.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: The conditions that are attached and these are tailor-made orders. So to that extent they respond to the particular threat, the risk that is posed by the perpetrator. And if it's an online form of abuse, the order, the intervention order will go to that online form of abuse. If it's physical abuse that is feared, it will be not to approach the victim survivor, not to go to particular addresses, not to go to the workplace of the victim survivor, and there'll be direct orders made. We have a separate problem about the small number of perpetrators who don't obey the intervention.

MOORE: That's a growing number and it has been noted by police and it's a lack of respect for the orders in the first instance.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: And one of the things we need to look at is to make sure that the system is able to respond to the person who is meant to be protected by the intervention order saying there's been a breach of the intervention order and getting very, very timely response to that breach and the person brought before the court.

MOORE: Attorney-General. before I let you go, and we've talked about various issues here, but if I can just sort of ask you to sit back and as an individual, what do you think is the problem?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I've said, very directly, that it's a men's problem. This is men's violence against women. Overwhelmingly it is men as perpetrators.

MOORE: But why? What is it that makes men ...

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: It's a lack of respect. For some men, it seems, that they simply think that they've got a right to behave in this dreadful way. And that's why I've said it's not something that governments alone can deal with. It's not just the state government or just the federal government that can deal with this. It's not just police. It's not just judges that can deal with this. The whole community has to do something about this. And I've called for men to speak to their sons, for men to speak to their fathers, to speak to their uncles, to speak to their workmates, because we can change attitudes here. I'm not saying that it's just attitudinal change. I've heard the criticisms that it's not just about cultural or attitudinal change. We've got to have system changes. Well, we've got to do all these things. So it's not just government. It's not just individuals. It's something we all have to work on. We saw that, Ali, at the rally in Melbourne, at the rallies in every Australian city, right across Australia. We see the distress that is being filled in our community about these deaths, about the violence against women that is ongoing. And there's a tremendous level of community concern here that I think we can build on. The Prime Minister's trying to build on that by this National Cabinet that is convened tomorrow. I'm going to try and build on it at the Police Ministers Council that's upcoming and all of us are going to keep working on this. I know from my colleagues in the Federal Cabinet just how hard all of us have been working on this problem since we came to government, and we aim to go on working at this problem.

MOORE: Well, tomorrow we will follow with interest to see what comes out of National Cabinet. Mark Dreyfus, thank you very much for talking to us.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thank you for the opportunity.

[ENDS]