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National forum to address coercive management, sex assault responses in Australia

A national approach to coercive control and improving responses to sexual assault will be on the agenda when Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus meets with his state and territory counterparts for the first time in more than two years.

Mr Dreyfus will host the in-person meeting in Melbourne on Friday, which will also be attended by New Zealand’s Justice Minister Kiri Allan to provide a trans-Tasman focus.

Moves to criminalise coercive control — a pattern of behaviour where a perpetrator isolates a victim from loved ones, and often cuts off their access to finances in an effort to limit their independence and freedom — will be at the top of the discussion.

The attorney-general and minister will also discuss how to improve standards of integrity, access to justice and transparency in Australia.

“This meeting has a comprehensive agenda, including important matters such as national approaches to coercive control, and strengthening criminal justice responses to sexual assault,” Mr Dreyfus said.

“Our many shared issues will require close collaboration and I intend that we will meet more regularly to drive co-ordinated, national responses to issues concerning justice, legal systems, integrity and the safety of women and children.”

In June, a coroner recommended urgent changes to domestic violence training and support in the wake of the deaths of Hannah Clarke and her children at the hands of her murderous ex-husband in Queensland in 2020.

The parents of Ms Clarke argued that coercive control early intervention could have saved the lives of their daughter and three grandchildren.

The shocking crime shone a spotlight on Australia’s domestic violence crisis, where one woman a week is killed by a current or former partner in Australia, and a third of Australian women experience physical violence by the age of 15.

The NSW Domestic Violence Death Review Team reported that in 99 per cent of reviewed intimate partner domestic violence homicide cases in the State between March 2008 and June 2016, the relationship was characterised by the perpetrators’ use of coercive and controlling behaviours towards the victim.

States and territories are now working on draft laws on coercive control.

In NSW, a proposed bill would see anyone convicted of coercive control in intimate partner relationships facing up to seven years in jail.

Queensland plans to introduce laws before the end of next year, while the WA Government has begun community consultations.

Consistent defamation laws among all jurisdictions is also expected to be flagged at the meeting.

“Revitalising co-operation between States and territories on matters of law and justice is one of my priorities as Commonwealth Attorney-General,” Mr Dreyfus said.

“As Attorney-General, I have a comprehensive agenda designed to improve standards of integrity, access to justice and transparency in our nation.”

Mr Dreyfus said he is committed to holding more regular meetings with his state and territory colleagues.

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