Labor makes domestic violence a 'top priority'

NSW Labor has announced a suite of policies in support of victims of domestic violence and sexual assault that will be implemented if they win the state election on March 28.

Labor’s domestic violence package was launched last week by leader Luke Foley, deputy leader Linda Burney and Shadow Minister for Women Sophie Cotsis. It involves a whole-of-government approach to tackling family violence in NSW, with a series of reforms proposed.

“Ending violence against women will be a priority of a government I lead,” Foley said.

“If we want to put an end to violence against women, we need to invest in prevention.”

“Labor’s plan will also invest in improved support services for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.”

Shadow Minister for Women Sophie Cotsis echoed this sentiment.

“One woman dies each week as a result of domestic violence in this country. Tackling domestic violence must be a keyfocus for government – and under a Foley Labor Government, this challenge will be front and centre,” she said.

The most significant policy in the package promises to provide an additional $14.5 million in state government funding to women’s refuges and crisis accommodation to support victims as well as counseling services and prevention programs.

The crisis accommodation sector has been gutted by the Baird government in recent months with the implementation of the controversial Going Home Staying Home reforms, with many women’s refuges closing or changing hands as a result.

“The Liberals so-called Going Home, Staying Home so-called reform has left some regions with no specialist shelters for women fleeing domestic violence,” said deputy Labor leader Linda Burney.

“Labor will fill these gaps so women all across the state, not just in our major cities, have access to specialist services.”

On top of the additional funding, NSW Labor has promised to trial a new specialist court system for domestic violence and sexual assault. The courts would be designed to support victims in accessing the criminal justice system and remove barriers that exist in the current criminal process – such as the requirement for victims to testify against their partners.

If Labor wins the election, the initial courts will be established in Sydney, the Hunter Valley and the Illawarra region.

“Labor’s specialist domestic violence and sexual assault courts will bring perpetrators to justice more swiftly, and in an environment that protects, supports and minimises trauma to victims,” Cotsis said.

The party has also promised to remove the women’s portfolio from the Department of Family and Communities and place it in the Department of Premier and Cabinet in order to bestow more political capital on the portfolio and “return women’s issues to their rightful place at the heart of the government,” according to a statement issued by the party leadership and Shadow Minister for Women. The reforms will also see a new Premier’s Council for Women established.

Another major reform proposed by the package is increased severity of penalties for breaches of Apprehended Violence Orders. The Prime Minister recently promised to create a national scheme for such violence orders, but this does not address enforcement issues.

For example Tara Costigan, who was murdered by her husband in the ACT earlier this month, had an AVO out against her husband at the time of her death. Labor has promised to toughen penalties for any AVO breaches in order to protect victims and instill greater confidence in victims in the system’s ability to keep them safe.

In line with sitting premier Mike Baird’s recent promise, NSW Labor has also pledged to create a national domestic violence register for offenders.

The package also includes a promise to double the existing provision of domestic violence leave to workers and to extent the protections of Australia’s Anti Discrimination Act to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

“Domestic violence is a national crisis and must be dealt with on a national scale,” Burney said.

“Domestic violence has shocking long-term impacts, particularly on children. It is something you carry with you for the rest of your life – which is why it must be a top priority for government.”

Lucia Osborne-Crowley

Lucia Osborne-Crowley is a journalist and producer at Women's Agenda.

Twitter: @LuciaOC_

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