Mark Latham rejects bid to make coercive control illegal
A proposed new law that would see people who control their partner's behaviour facing criminal charges could backfire on victims, One Nation Senator Mark Latham has claimed.
A new Bill proposed by Labor MPs would make it illegal to engage in a "pattern of domination" - which could entail cutting a partner off from their friends and family, monitoring their daily activity or taking control of their finances.
The proposed law comes after a review by the NSW Coroners Court, which found 99 per cent of domestic murders came after some form of coercive control.
Under the law, making your partner dependent or subordinate to yourself, isolating them from their friends, relatives or other sources of support, and monitoring or regulating day-to-day activities - like what they wear or eat - could all form a case if the behaviour was ongoing.
The Bill also calls for harsher penalties when children are involved, with a 10-year maximum penalty to be imposed when they also become victims of or are used to inflict the abuse.
But Mr Latham said the Bill was "not much of a law" as it would be difficult to enforce and could see victims of domestic abuse on the wrong end of the law.
He said a basic example would be a female partner threatening to leave with the couple's children unless the other person changed their behaviour.
"That would qualify under the Labor Bill and similar proposals to be coercive control," he said.
"Now if the female partner is a victim of domestic violence and is responding to that dangerous situation, we wouldn't want that victim to then be regarded as a perpetrator.
"You don't want a Bill that's catching victims and potentially prosecuting them - and that's a concern set out in the latest report and it's also mentioned in the NSW Women's Safety Submission that they made to Mark Speakman."
NSW Labor MP and shadow minister for women and the prevention of domestic and family violence Trish Doyle is driving the Bill.
She told NCA NewsWire there had been many examples of coercive control across the country recently, the most visible being the death of Hannah Clarke in Brisbane in February.
Ms Doyle said there had been a series of patterns of control and domination displayed by Ms Clarke's former partner in the lead-up to her death.
"If governments are serious, and our society is serious about preventing domestic violence, then we have to criminalise coercive control," she said.
"We need to realise it's not always just a one-off physical incident, but there are many forms of domestic abuse.
"If we want to save lives, we need to make coercive control illegal."
The Labor MP explained the defence of "reasonableness" had been added to the Bill to protect partners from being charged over a one-off incident that had not been a pattern of control or abuse.
"There might be a one-off incident suggesting your partner shouldn't wear something because they look terrible," she explained.
"You seek to humiliate or degrade (with the comment), but it's a one-off.
"The legislation identifies a series of behaviours which constitute a pattern."
Women's Safety NSW chief executive Hayley Foster said the law would help reduce the risk of victims being misidentified as abusers by a judicial system that was "so focused on single incidents".
"Criminalising coercive control as a course of conduct, with the essential elements of fear, control and a subjective standard that the conduct would likely cause the victim harm, would actually go a huge way to reducing the risk of systems abuse for victims," she said.
Mr Latham said the new Bill would be a nightmare for the justice system.
"In NSW, it's illegal to engage in acts of physical violence, also stalking and intimidation - these are specific incidents that occur," he said.
"That's the difficulty with this new approach - how do you codify patterns of behaviour, particularly in relationships that can be complex and variable? They're all different."
The NSW Senator said the burden of proof proposed to convict people under the Bill was only that the alleged abuse was 'reasonably likely' - not 'beyond reasonable doubt' as is the case in all other criminal court hearings.
He said reading the Coroner's review had suggested to him there were bigger underlying issues that should be dealt with first.
"I read the case studies in detail and what struck me was the chaos of the lives of the people involved," he said.
"Drug and alcohol abuse, unemployment, a whole range of problems with housing … prior criminal convictions, troubles with the law in general. A life of underclass and chaos.
"There's certainly evidence of coercive control in many of the case studies, but there's also other factors at play, and I'd like to see analysis and data brought forward from that perspective as well."
The Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Amendment, Coercive Control Bill 2020 is expected to be introduced into NSW parliament on Thursday.
*For 24-hour domestic violence support call the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or MensLine on 1800 600 636.
Originally published as Big issue that could see new law backfire