Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (15:06): I am pleased to rise to make a short contribution to Ms Maxwell’s motion. From the outset I would like to acknowledge Lee, Michelle and Jana, who I have seen wandering around the Parliament today, and I certainly saw them outside this morning. I am pleased that they actually can be here today to hear us speak, probably all so passionately, about this incredibly difficult and important issue.
As we know, coercive and controlling behaviour is sadly a prominent feature in almost all family violence, but it is one of the hardest things to identify. It is one of the hardest things, even for people who are experiencing it, to fully articulate what is happening to them—‘It’s just that he loves me so much, that he cares about me so much’. I am very fortunate to be chairing the inquiry into criminal justice, a referral that came from Ms Maxwell, and I do not think it should come as any surprise that the witnesses that we have heard from, the submissions that we have received, all talk about family violence and coercive behaviour. So I am really pleased that Ms Maxwell has brought this issue to the chamber, and I am happy to lend my encouragement to the government to do something on this.
I think it is interesting to note that in the most recent National Summit on Women’s Safety, which was held just one or two months ago, it was seen as one of the most complex and urgent issues. That was how it was described in the paper that followed that summit. We have seen several Victorian organisations, including Respect Victoria, united—
Ms Maxwell: On a point of order, Acting President, I am sitting very close to Ms Patten and it is difficult to hear her, and I just think particularly given the topic we are discussing, which goes along the lines of respect, could we just have a little bit less noise?
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Bourman): Fair point. Could we keep it down so we can hear Ms Patten, please?
Ms PATTEN: Thank you, Ms Maxwell, and thank you, Acting President. As I was saying, there have been a number of organisations who have really come to the fore and are speaking loudly about this—Respect Victoria, Domestic Violence Victoria and Djirra in particular.
I think they have all looked at this. And I know that Ms Maxwell is passionate about prevention and early intervention, and this is another area where this is so crucial, because the criminal justice system, as we know, currently fails so many victims. And it is sometimes a blunt instrument, and what we need to be doing is stopping this from happening, but we know that that is not easy. This involves cultural change. This involves education. This involves change and equality, gender equality, and it goes into so many different areas. So prevention in this context is complicated, but it has to be something that we focus on.
As I say, legislating can have that effect and it can shift norms and it can shift attitudes, but we need to shift those norms and those attitudes and those behaviours before they turn into what they are turning into. It is interesting—and I do not know whether it is because of the work we are doing in the criminal justice system—that I am seeing coercive control being discussed, being dramatised, being seen in mainstream media. You know, Netflix has a really excellent program called Maid. It is a US drama that looks at coercive control, and it goes through the various stages of that control with the main character in it. Over recent weeks I have not been listening to it but, when I was able to walk home from work in the evenings and was comfortable doing it, I would listen to the Trap by Jess Hill, another extraordinary podcast, an extraordinary detailed story. Well, it is not a story, it is a whole podcast focusing on coercive control—how it affects the children, how it affects the families, and also it goes to how we can try and find some solutions. But, as I said, it is addressing those underlying attitudes, which is what we need to do, but again it will be one of the most complicated things that we do.
I was just looking at some of the press releases that came out following that national summit, and certainly what we have been hearing during the criminal justice inquiry is that we need to be looking at broadening the scope of how we address this. And I note—and I use this quote because sadly Djirra, which is an extraordinary Aboriginal women’s advocacy organisation, was not able to appear before the committee at our last public hearing—that Antoinette Braybrook said that the conversation around coercive control had to be broadened:
Instead of putting money into the criminal justice system, invest in Aboriginal Community Controlled, self-determined solutions that we know work for our women, families and communities.
Executive director of the Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health, Dr Adele Murdolo, who did appear before our committee, also went on to say:
Migrant and refugee women and their communities are already leading the way in preventing violence, and it’s time to listen and learn from them. Whole of community and tailored approaches are needed, to ensure that we address the structural inequalities that enable violence against migrant and refugee women.
We know the impact that this has on women. As Ms Maxwell and I am certain Ms Crozier raised, family violence is still the leading contributor to death for women 15 to 44—the leading contributor. It is not breast cancer. It is not smoking. It is not heart disease. It is family violence. It is also the leading contributor to women experiencing homelessness. It is the leading contributor to women being imprisoned. Almost every woman currently in our Victorian prison is a victim—a victim-survivor.
During our inquiry we have heard harrowing stories from women who have been in the prison system. The fact that they had experienced extraordinary coercive control or violence just never kind of made it to the top. It was never really heard when they were being sentenced to prison, and that is what we need to be doing.
Part of Ms Maxwell’s call to the government is looking at building up this evidence base for the types and appearances of this type of behaviour—who perpetrates it and what drives them—and community education initiatives to increase public understanding of these behaviours and their unacceptability. Again I would commend Jess Hill’s podcast as well as the drama that I saw called Maid. Both go to increasing this public understanding. And working with organisations to ensure that they do not tacitly or overtly condone or foster attitudes and social norms that fuel coercive control—we have heard that today and we have heard that during the inquiry. It is not for people wanting to ignore and knowingly ignoring these issues; it is just that they do not understand. On behalf of Victorian women, we deserve better, and we in this chamber should be leading this change, driving this change in community attitudes to women.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Ms Maxwell’s motion 17/11/21
Read the motion here.