Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (14:14): I am pleased to rise today to speak on the Cemeteries and Crematoria Amendment Bill 2021. It has been a long time coming, this bill, and there were recommendations for work like this to be done. But it was the work of Karen Williams’s family that finally made this happen, and I join with all the previous speakers in sending my sincerest condolences to that family and my gratitude for their work and their advocacy in this area to now change this law, as it should be, and to protect people from further harm, pain and suffering that is caused as a result of the exercise of rights of interment. As we have it now, in the case of a burial in a public cemetery, the act and regulations stipulate that the right of the interment holder, which is usually the person who paid for the plot, has control over the activities relating to the plot, including what is written on the headstone, what type of headstone and obviously the burial. This amendment changes that. This amendment protects families of victims of fatal crime, ensuring their loved ones can be released from interment when the perpetrator oversees the remains and burial arrangements.
My office spoke to the Cemeteries and Crematoria Association of Victoria, and they told me they were very involved in the drafting of this legislation and are very strong supporters of this legislation. We spoke to Rita Butera at Safe Steps about this, and she has also applauded the amendments and noted that they were just commonsense change.
We have over 550 cemeteries in Victoria, and as we have heard from many people they can be seen as a place of gloom or of sadness, but really they are a place where people can go and reflect. They can go and think about loved ones who have died, consider the wonderful lives that they had and the fond memories that they have of those people. They are often a place of social pilgrimage even. They are historical; they are social records that hold personal meaning not only for loved ones but also for all of us. They are places where people can move through grief and hopefully find a modicum of peace.
As speakers have said today, in Australia in 2020 more than one woman a week was murdered by her intimate partner, and in some cases the offending partner was also the overseer of the victim’s remains and burial arrangements. This must just be so painful for those families that have had to go through that, and this was the case for Karen Williams. It was her family that stood up to fight for justice, and as I mentioned, they have been the impetus for these amendments. In Karen’s case her murderer continued to try and control her life even after her life had ended, even after he had murdered her. He admitted to killing her, but he refused to say why or how—and still refuses today. Karen was 47. She lived in Melbourne. She was a fashion designer. She was a mother to her daughter, Sarah. She was a sister to Stephen. She was a friend. And she was murdered. Her husband has been jailed, and the time to be served has been extended. But he insisted that on her gravestone it read ‘A loving wife’. He was destined to be buried next to her. I do not think I can even imagine how that would feel. As I often do, because I find it a beautiful place, I was walking through Melbourne General Cemetery the other day with my niece, and I was telling her about this piece of legislation. As we were walking through and we saw the many graves with husbands and wives buried together, I could not help wonder how many of those were in this situation. When one woman every week or every 10 days is being murdered by her husband or her partner, how many of those people buried in that cemetery were also victims of family violence, were also victims of murder by their husbands?
It really struck me how painful that must have been for those families if that had occurred, to be going to grieve for their mother and noting that the tormentor of their mother was buried next to them. So this bill is much needed, and I very much welcome this bill. The Reason Party welcomes this. We are very grateful that it is backdated to 2005 so that the families of some of those victims will be able to have some say about where they are buried and, just tortuously, what is on those gravestones.
Safe Steps reported that they have seen a 27 per cent increase in women and children accessing their services since the first COVID lockdown. Now, when they are accessing these services, these are women calling from a public phone because they are fearful for their lives. This is when women are in the most danger. As I think Ms Shing pointed out, and some of the other contributors, they are literally at the most dangerous part of their life because when they leave is when they are likely to be killed. Every day 100 women and children in Victoria are placed into crisis accommodation. Quite often it has to be very secret accommodation. It has to be miles, if not towns, away from the perpetrator so that they can feel some level of safety.
I am pleased that this bill is before this house. I am pleased that this bill has been backdated. We still have a lot to do. But this is one more aspect where we can address those coercive controls that perpetrators have on their victims. Again, as my heart goes out to the Williams family, I commend this bill.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Second reading speech 6/5/21