TRANSCRIPT: RN Breakfast, Wednesday 23 November 2016





FRAN KELLY, PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek is Labor’s Deputy Leader and the Shadow Minister for Women, and I spoke with her earlier.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: It’s a pleasure to be with you again.

KELLY: Tanya Plibersek, Labor wants the Family Law Act reformed to better protect vulnerable witnesses. What is the key issue here? What is the situation in the courtroom right now that’s concerning you?

PLIBERSEK: Well we know, Fran, that quite often in relationships where there’s domestic violence there is physical violence, but there is also intimidating and controlling behaviour as a big feature of that relationship. And, at the moment, what sometimes happens, particularly in the Family Court is perpetrators of violence are able to directly cross-examine victims of their violence. That is a very bad dynamic in the courtroom. That history of intimidation comes into the courtroom then. Victims become very distressed. It reduces their ability to give clear evidence in some cases. And, of course, it actually takes up a great deal more time and resources during the legal processes because victims and perpetrators are not represented in this instance. We believe that both the victim and the perpetrator should be represented. It is fairer, it protects victims from re-victimisation and harassment, and it’s also more efficient for the court itself.

KELLY: How common is it for women to be directly cross-examined by their abuser? Because I know the Chief Justice of the Family Court, Diana Bryant, she’s raised concerns about this. So, some of the judges would like the law changed. How common is it?

PLIBERSEK: Well, it’s common enough for judges to be concerned about it. It’s common enough for domestic violence advocates like Rosie Batty to have raised it multiple times. It’s common enough. It shouldn’t be happening at all.

KELLY: Is the best answer to this that we build more of these Domestic Violence Courts like they have operating on the Gold Coast? I know the New South Wales Labor leader Luke Foley, he’s promised to introduce specialised courts. Is this the best answer? Does Federal Labor support this?

PLIBERSEK: Well I have visited the Southport court that is the Specialist Domestic Violence Court, and I think they do excellent work. I think that the very early results from this innovative new approach are terrific. And, of course, they haven’t just reformed the legal processes within the court, they do have links to support services for victims, to perpetrator programs to reduce further offending. I think it is a very good model. And there are other options that courts use in some cases. They can use video conferencing. They can have just a simple screen up so the perpetrator and the victim aren’t seeing each other. I mean, there are other options available in legal processes.

What we are saying is, at this extreme end where you’ve got perpetrators cross-examining victims, more needs to be done to protect victims. And, Fran, what you were describing earlier – you’ve got to remember – in many cases, victims of domestic violence have lived with abuse for many, many years. Quite often the abuse begins as psychological abuse, controlling behaviour, undermining of the confidence of the victim, and builds up to physical abuse. So, by the time you have reached a court, you have got years of learned behaviour from victims who have been terrorised in their own homes.

KELLY: You are listening to RN Breakfast, our guest is Tanya Plibersek, she is the Deputy Labor Leader and the Shadow Minister for Women. And, this week, this Friday, is White Ribbon Day. Tanya Plibersek, in your home state of New South Wales, the number of domestic violence related homicides has increased by 40 percent. 32 so far this year up from 23. The figure nationally, I think, is 68. The police want more people to report family abuse. Is this the problem – that it’s not being – is this one of the problems, not the only problem, the abuse is the problem – but also, that it’s not regarded as a crime - it’s not called out?

PLIBERSEK: Well, Fran, I actually think community attitudes on domestic violence have improved a great deal over the decades that I’ve been involved in campaigning for change. We’ve got, obviously, bipartisan political support for action. I don’t think there is any political figure or leading community figure in the country now who’d say, “this is unimportant, it’s just a domestic, what happens behind closed doors should stay behind closed doors.”

KELLY: Of course, but my point is that it still clearly is going on behind closed doors…

PLIBERSEK: Absolutely.

KELLY: … because the statistics are getting worse and not better. And we have an example of this now amongst political union leadership in this country. The longest serving union leader in this country, a guy called Jim Metcher – who heads up the

Communications Electrical and Plumbing Union – we now know has the decades-long history of domestic violence. He was charged in 2007 with six counts of assault. He remains the leader of a union in amongst you and your colleagues. Why would the Labor Party and the ACTU allow this?

PLIBERSEK: Well, in fact, we have kicked him out of the Labor Party and he is off the Administrative Committee in New South Wales.

KELLY: Now, once it became public. Why hasn’t it happened before?

PLIBERSEK: Well, Fran, as I say – I mean – I certainly was unaware of this behaviour before, so, the key is as soon as we knew, we acted.

KELLY: I accept that you didn’t know. But, is it really possible that none of the people in the union or the ALP who this man has served on committees with – presumably they know his family – have not known anything or suspected anything of charges in a 27-year-long – described as a 27-year-long – domestic violence lifestyle?

PLIBERSEK: I can’t answer who knew and when they knew, Fran, but, what matters is, when it became public – as soon as we knew, Bill Shorten knew and I knew – we asked the Labor Party branch to act immediately. They did act immediately.

And, it is important to send a strong signal that it is not ever, ever acceptable. And, the way that we behave when someone is found to be a perpetrator of domestic violence should be swift, it should be strong, it should be unequivocal.

KELLY: This man, Jim Metcher, is still the head of the Union in New South Wales. Should he no longer be in that position?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think it is very important that the Union make it clear that this behaviour is unacceptable.

KELLY: And strip him of that position now?

PLIBERSEK: I think it is appropriate, yes. And, Fran, I’d say this too. It is partly about this community response to domestic violence, saying it’s never acceptable. The full force of the law should be applied. The legal system should work to protect victims.

The legal system should work to ensure this behaviour stops. But, there are so many other supports that have to come into play here.

We have seen cuts to homelessness services. 44 million dollars a year cut from new building of homelessness services. We’ve got a National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness that expires in the middle of next year with no indication that the Federal

Government will renew it. That’s 80,000 victims – or, 80,000 people – who are homeless every year who will be turned away from services that they currently use if that expires without being renewed. The services are important. You cannot fix this problem without services.

KELLY: Tanya Plibersek, thank you very much for joining us.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you, Fran.

KELLY: Tanya Plibersek is the Deputy Labor Leader and the Shadow Minister for Education and for Women. And the White Ribbon Breakfast in Parliament House is underway this morning. Though White Ribbon Day is on Friday.