Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Amendment (Information Sharing Bill 2014) [Legislation Debate]

This speech was delivered on 17/06/2014 in the NSW Upper House. You can read the full debate online here 

Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE [8.30 p.m.]: I support the amendment moved by my colleague Dr Mehreen Faruqi. The amendment comes from the very support agencies that the Government says it has consulted. The current drafting of new section 98E has the defect that it requires the person who seeks the apprehended domestic violence order to proactively object to the disclosure of her information. At no point has the Government said what arrangements have been put in place to facilitate that. It has not said what regulations, forms or structures will be put in place to empower women, who will be the people mainly subject to this new law, to express their objection. In his contribution to the discussion on the amendment the Parliamentary Secretary made it clear that these women are almost always in difficult circumstances and facing emotionally challenging and distressing situations. Therefore, in the worst possible situation they are expected to protect their rights to privacy or to express their concerns about their information being shared. In those circumstances the only safe course is for an opt-in regime rather than the opt-out regime that the Government is proposing.

I accept it is how the Parliamentary Secretary has been briefed, but the Government says that the information will be used only to put domestic violence counselling providers in contact with women who have come before the courts and who may benefit from counselling. If that was the only purpose for which it could be used then stakeholders, The Greens and the Opposition may not hold the same concerns we currently have about the legislation. But of course the legislation does not contain those limitations. It does not say that the information can be used only for the purposes of counselling. It allows the information to be provided to police for the purposes of prosecution and to Family and Community Services [FACS], which may use it to remove children. The legislation allows the information to be shared with any agency and it is not limited in the way that the Parliamentary Secretary says.

The sector expressed these concerns to us when the prior bill was introduced and it has repeated the concerns about this bill. As I understand it, these concerns were also raised at the roundtable with the Labor Opposition. It is these concerns that the Government should listen to far more closely than it is listening to whichever bureaucrats are saying an opt-out process would be administratively easier. Yes, it would be administratively easier but this addresses far more important principles that relate to protecting women from domestic violence and making them feel comfortable to come forward.

The Hon. Trevor Khan: And children being protected from domestic violence.

Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: And children. We do not suggest that the Government has some deep malign intent.

The Hon. Trevor Khan: That is a reasonable concession to make.

Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: No, the Government has a genuine intention to attempt to draw the line so that information can be shared in all circumstances. That will, in the eyes of the Government, produce more safety for children and women at risk. But stakeholders are saying that, by having no protections in place, many women will feel anxious about taking that first step to seek protection. They will feel anxious about disclosing the details of their situation to the courts or other agencies if they feel that the information can spread throughout the government apparatus and go to the police, FACS and other organisations. Rather than serving the purpose that the Government intends, which is protecting more children and women, it may do the opposite. When all the stakeholders that have contacted The Greens and the Opposition have acknowledged the difficulties but have effectively said the same thing about this aspect of the bill, the Government should listen. For these reasons I support Dr Faruqi’s amendment.

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