Pressure grows for NSW royal commission into domestic violence

  • Published April 29, 2024

Sydney Morning Herald, 26 April 2024

NSW Premier Chris Minns will convene an urgent cabinet meeting with experts on domestic violence, including Rosie Batty, as the opposition and influential union leaders join calls for a royal commission and Labor backbenchers push for more funding.

Minns said the push for a state-based royal commission was “completely understandable” and Domestic Violence Minister Jodie Harrison declared “all options are on the table” after Batty, a former Australian of the Year, said Victoria’s approach to family violence had significantly improved since its royal commission in 2015.

Opposition Leader Mark Speakman also urged the government to work with the Coalition on terms of reference for a royal commission into domestic and family violence following the alleged murder of Molly Ticehurst in Forbes earlier this week.

“We have seen tragedy after tragedy, and we need a thorough examination of what can be done to address this absolute blight on our community,” Speakman told the Herald.
Powerful Unions NSW secretary Mark Morey also backed a royal commission and said the underfunding of services could no longer be justified due to “budget constraints”. He said the government’s election commitment to balance the budget should be broken to address the “massive societal crisis”.

Domestic violence funding in NSW is dwarfed by what is spent in Victoria. Budget figures reveal NSW allocated $417.2 million in the 2022-23 financial year compared to Victoria’s $613 million.

Ticehurst, 28, was found dead in her Forbes home on Monday. Her former partner, Daniel Billings, had earlier been released on bail despite facing charges of raping and stalking her. Her death led Batty – whose son was killed by his father in 2014 – to call for a NSW royal commission into family violence.

Morey said he supported a royal commission but stressed immediate answers were also needed because the apprehended violence order mechanism was not working to deter perpetrators.

Minns on Friday said he would hold a special meeting of cabinet next week to be addressed by Marcia Neave, the commissioner of the Victorian royal commission into family and domestic violence, Women’s Safety Commissioner Hannah Tonkin, and Batty.

“It’s clear that the status quo is not working and urgent reform is needed,” Minns told reporters.

Minns said the calls for a royal commission in NSW were “completely understandable and really reasonable in the circumstances” and the government was “considering those calls from prominent leaders” who have led the charge to end violence against women.

NSW Labor MPs Trish Doyle and Anna Watson added their voices to calls for a royal commission but said immediate responses were imperative to address an entrenched culture.

Doyle used her inaugural speech to parliament almost a decade ago to recount her harrowing experience with domestic violence after her mother was hospitalised after a “severe beating” from her father. She said everyone was responsible for addressing violence against women.
Minns and Attorney-General Michael Daley have ordered a review of the state’s bail laws in response to the killing of Ticehurst, but Doyle said the government must also scrutinise all responses, including enabling community services that support victims.

“If someone is someone like Rosie [Batty] is calling for a royal commission in this state, then that absolutely has merit,” Doyle said. “But we can’t just have a royal commission. People want to see some measures now.”

Shellharbour MP Anna Watson said a royal commission specific to NSW would be “very helpful” in the medium term, and said the measure should be augmented by reforms such as strengthening punishments for breaches of AVOs and introducing mandatory sentencing for coercive control.

Watson said if the issue was a priority for the government, funding should match that.

A Victorian parliamentary inquiry last year heard that since the 2015 royal commission “more than $3.86 billion has been invested to transform Victoria’s family violence system” – more than every other state and territory combined.
South Australian Premier Peter Malinauskas recently announced a 12-month royal commission in his state after concluding it was the best way to gather enough evidence to drive the most effective change.

Greens spokesperson for gendered abuse Abigail Boyd said the domestic and family violence sector in NSW was “dangerously underfunded”.

“I share the frustrations of the domestic and family violence sector, who have been telling successive governments what we need to do for decades and have been met with continued and stubborn inaction,” Boyd said.

“The fact is that well-meaning words and legislative tinkering are no substitute for actually providing the funding for the evidence-based solutions experts are telling us need to be urgently implemented.”
Public Service Association general secretary Stewart Little also backed a royal commission. He said women “cannot afford to wait for those findings” and called for immediate changes to the Bail Act to deny bail for violent offenders.

Health Services Union secretary Gerard Hayes said his union was prepared to spend “as much money as needed to value-add to prevention” and described a royal commission as an opportunity to “articulate a range of matters” previously unconsidered by the public.

The Herald on Friday called for two royal commissions: the first a national probe examining the underlying causes driving male attitudes towards women and the second a state-based inquiry examining all aspects of laws, policies and emergency services resourcing.