Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (14:28): I am very pleased to rise to speak to Mr Meddick’s motion today, and I agree with Ms Crozier: I think it is an extremely good motion to be debating today, and I have been really moved by quite a few of the contributions. As we know, family violence is such a scourge in our society. Ms Crozier just gave some statistics there, but when I think of how on average one woman is killed by a partner every week, that is just too shocking.
In reflecting on Mr Meddick’s motion around the impact that family violence has on animals, when I was first elected and I was wanting to get to meet all of the organisations in my electorate, I went and visited all of the animal shelters and the RSPCA. I went and visited all of them, and I recall having a conversation that came out of the blue with the manager at Lort Smith, who said, ‘You know, Fiona, sometimes we have to pull someone aside because we know that that dog has been beaten. We know that, and quite often we see the fear in, more likely, the woman there’. He said, ‘There have been times when we have found reason to pull the woman into a room on her own and have that conversation’. So we know that, and it should send alarms when we see animals that have been harmed coming into our vets and into our hospitals.
Everybody calls their animal part of the family. It is always part of the family: ‘They are our furry babies’, ‘He’s like a member of the family’ or ‘We have lost a member of the family’. That is so true. In part it is reflected in the Family Violence Protection Act 2008, but I think it is a very good time to be reviewing that, to look at how that coercion is used and how family pets or companion animals are used in the coercion of largely women.
But family violence affects a lot of people and in fact during COVID I was speaking to one of the frontline organisations, Safe Steps, and they said during COVID they were incredibly surprised by the number of men who started calling. This, it would appear, was because a lot of men had moved back home, they had moved home back with parents, and there was violence in those homes. Sometimes it would be that sons had moved home and there was violence against the father, and extreme violence. So to be calling Safe Steps is a point when you fear for your life.
We are trying to address everything to stop the scourge of family violence, to try and eliminate it in our community. We do not have enough refuges. We know that. It is very hard, and we heard this during the homelessness inquiry. When someone is escaping family violence, they have nowhere to go. Particularly when they have a pet, particularly when they have an animal, there is nowhere to go, so they must stay where they are—or move into their car. We heard that so many times because refuges could not take pets. I know that is not necessarily part of this motion, but it is certainly something that we saw. We need to see a lot more that companion animals are included in our homelessness strategy, in our housing around family violence in those refuges, in moving people into housing. Mr Meddick spoke in his contribution about people who do not want to leave home because they do not want to leave their pets. They know that if they do, something terrible could happen to that family member and so they do not leave—or if they do, something terrible does happen.
I am pleased that in my electorate we have got Keeping our Pets Safe. That is a program that has been adopted through Hume, Whittlesea, Darebin, Moreland and Yarra councils. It works with the Victoria Police family violence advisers. They also work with Safe Steps and Womens Health in the North. They recognise the importance of threats on family animals and the effect they can have. In fact going back to Lort Smith, who offer accommodation to support animals that are part of a family fleeing family violence, they have actually been doing this for over 20 years. Another shout-out would be to the northern metropolitan victims assistance program, which operates through Merri Health. That works to build networks across the northern metropolitan councils, encouraging and educating councils to support families needing exit strategies, and that includes those companion animals.
I know that there are other people who would like to speak. I know that this is an issue that certainly my team and the people in my office were very engaged with. Really, this is something that is so acute because people know the love that they have for their companion animal, they know the love that they have—they grew up with that pet, so it is so hard to imagine having to leave it or having to put your family member at risk. I think also we would like to see some other areas where this can be expanded and that is in looking at caravan parks, rooming houses and places like that, that would also accept pets. I commend the motion.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Mr Meddick’s motion 3/3/21