Preventing domestic violence is not on NSW government's priority list

The lives of at least 15 women have been lost in Australia this year due to domestic violence. Of those who were killed in the first three months of 2019, half were in NSW.

Public outrage builds with each tragedy. The Hunter community was heartbroken - and livid - over the death of young mother Gabriella Thompson last month and the circumstances surrounding her stabbing. The frequency of these shocking acts does not desensitise us. We are moved to speak up, demand change, and fight for action.

This has never been more important. Sexual and indecent assaults have increased in NSW in the past eight years. They are the only violent crime categories where incidents have risen throughout the state.

The high proportion of women in NSW dying of domestic homicide provides inarguable evidence that the NSW government has failed those at risk. In the past eight years figures released by the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) show the NSW Liberals and Nationals have failed to make significant inroads into reducing the rate of domestic violence assault.

Common sense dictates the best way to reduce domestic violence assault and save lives is to prevent these acts from occurring. Yet the Premier's post-election portfolio shuffle signals a seismic shift away from this logic. Prevention of Domestic Violence now sits under Family and Community Services and Justice in one of Premier Gladys Berejiklian's newly created public service super-departments.

The law-and-order approach flagged by the move to the Justice stable, under the stewardship of Attorney General (AG) Mark Speakman, attempts to address the problem at the wrong end of the cycle.

We need to stop people dying at the hands of domestic partners; not simply offer a deterrent or penalty to those who are inclined to, or have, committed a crime.

The move to the (AG) Department is the fourth change of delivery agency for the portfolios of Women and the Prevention of Domestic Violence in four years - from FaCS, to Health, to FaCS and now the AG. The shifting priorities are also reflected in changes to the portfolio of Women, which is the third most junior in the government.

This is a clear indication that we can expect issues such as domestic and family violence, child protection and homelessness to suffer even further neglect. It appears also we can forget meaningful action on the prevention of sexual assault. The NSW government was three years overdue delivering their Sexual Assault Strategy. Since the recent portfolio shake-up, they now don't even have a minister charged with implementing it.

Labor recently released a $158 million package that was widely supported by the sector. It included significant funding prevention, early intervention, services and legal support for victim-survivors. Labor also proposed to move the portfolios of Women and Prevention of Domestic Violence back into Premier and Cabinet to ensure a whole-of-government approach.

It also committed to providing budget statements for both portfolios to increase accountability, and ensuring transparency on outcomes achieved. The NSW government's constant portfolio shifts and policy changes are a way of avoiding scrutiny.

It is time for the state government to take immediate action, move Women and Prevention of Domestic Violence back into Premier and Cabinet, reaffirm its commitment to the prevention of sexual assault, and adopt a coordinated, whole-of-government approach centring on prevention.

NSW must join Our Watch, an Australian organisation established in 2013 by the Commonwealth and Victorian governments, which focuses on prevention in its quest to end violence against women and their children. We are the only state or territory in the Commonwealth that has not joined.

I call upon the new Minister for Domestic Violence to ensure the Berejiklian government takes up membership with Our Watch as a matter of urgency.

As the NSW Shadow Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, and having served as the Acting Shadow Minister for Women, I call upon the government to listen closely to those who work in the sector every day. Leverage off the existing expertise and knowledge. Seek advice when formulating strategies to prevent domestic, family and sexual violence.

Together we can change the culture and stop the killing.

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