Member for Isaacs

6PR Perth Liam Bartlett 15 August 2022

15 August 2022

SUBJECTS: Meeting of Attorneys-General; Coercive Control; Scott Morrison taking on additional portfolios.



SUBJECTS: Meeting of Attorneys-General; Coercive Control; Scott Morrison taking on additional portfolios.

LIAM BARTLETT: On the Friday just gone, the country's top lawmakers got together in Canberra to try to work out a consensus approach to address the problems relating to coercive control. Now, generally, most of us, I think, accept that coercive control refers to the pattern of abusive behaviour designed to create power and dominance from one person to another. Now, that can be anything from controlling what someone wears, to who they see, who their friendship group is, their access to money, tracking their location. It can often lead to physical violence, family violence, common abuse, that sort of thing. It can often be the driver behind a lot of domestic violence. Now the challenge is to try to frame laws around preventing that, laws that are effective and to those ends after that meeting in Canberra on Friday, Attorneys-General from around the country have agreed to come up with a national plan to try to do just that. Joining us this morning is the Federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus. Minister, good morning.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL MARK DREYFUS: Very good to be with you, Liam. Thanks for having me.

BARTLETT: Good to talk to you, too, minister. You've got everyone on the same page. That's great. That's a great start. So where do you go from here?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I am very proud Liam that at my first Meeting of the Attorneys-General, the first Meeting under the Albanese Government, we've agreed on collective action to address family domestic and sexual violence. And in particular, I was pleased that the Meeting endorsed a consultation draft of national principles to address coercive control. It's really vital that we have a coordinated national approach.

BARTLETT: Minister, are there any models in other parts of the world that have already tackled this that are worth adopting, that you know of?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I think everybody recognises that this is a really difficult problem. It's difficult because it's hard to recognise and part of the purpose in getting to these national principles to address coercive control is to better educate everybody in the entire community. Particularly to better educate police officers and counselors and everybody working in family violence, to recognise the problem so that we can do something about it. There doesn't, as yet, seem to be a complete agreement among the states and territories as to whether criminal law needs to be changed. Some states think that their criminal laws already address the problem. Others like New South Wales and Queensland have both announced that they're going to legislate some more in this area. My particular responsibility is, of course, the Family Law Act, the family law system, and we need to make absolutely sure that the family law system responds to coercive control issues in every way.

BARTLETT: But what do you think? I mean, you're an old law man from way back. What sort of advice have you had, because the hard part of this, as you well know, is that the victims of the abuse often have a hard time proving coercive control in the court around that legal framework.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: They do, and that's because very often coercive control, which is a pattern of behaviour, is not accompanied by physical violence and that's another reason that sometimes it's hard to recognise. I think the more we talk about this, the better. The more that there are national principles agreed and action agreed, the better. And what we really need is to make sure that it's observed. We've seen over and over again, from tragic cases which sometimes ended in the murder of the woman in a relationship, or even worse, the murder of children, that there was coercive control, that there had been this pattern of behaviour occurring, but because it wasn't recognised, action wasn't taken early enough. So, this is about raising awareness. Sometimes, even if you don't get a whole lot of people prosecuted, it's nevertheless very important that there be provisions in the criminal law because that draws attention to it. It gives a framework for talking about it, gives a framework for police officers who are going to seek intervention orders to know what's the context.

BARTLETT: Well, just hearing you talk about worst case scenarios, immediately the case of Hannah Clarke springs to mind, of course in Queensland.


BARTLETT: And one of the things that that her family said, as you know, is that there were no physical signs of trauma. Now, they know it was all mental, obviously, because of that coercive control. And as you say it's hard to actually nail it down unless the people themselves, the victims sing out.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: That's right, and that's something after that tragic death of Hannah and her three children that her parents have spoken about. That Hannah herself didn't self identify as having been a victim survivor of family violence, because there hadn't been physical violence inflicted on her. But what there had been was this extraordinary long running course of abusive behaviour of another kind.

BARTLETT: So could we see through the family court system, for example, could we see a specific law about coercive control?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We could, but most importantly, what we need is to have it recognised. What we need is to have people able to identify the conduct when it is occurring, to identify it as a form of family violence.

BARTLETT: But who do you go to for that? Are you saying it's more of an awareness situation for people then to reach out to advocates and that sort of thing? Or are you talking about it from a law enforcers point of view so that police forces are more aware of it?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We're talking about all those things, Liam. We're talking about not just victim survivors recognising what's happening to them, but we're talking about police officers being more aware so that they know how to take action when they are receiving complaints. And we're talking about everybody working in the family law system, in the family relationship system, becoming aware of these behaviours, and assisting victim survivors to deal with the situation.

BARTLETT: I know it's early days, so we'll move on, but I'd love to keep talking to you about that as you as you move through the process if you don't mind.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: And I would welcome that Liam because we do need to talk about this. Raising awareness is really important.

BARTLETT: Good on you. Were talking to the Federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, Minister, on another matter, the revelation over the weekend, it's quite extraordinary, Scott Morrison, when he was Prime Minister seems to be running around in the early days of the pandemic, swearing himself in. Secret swearing in ceremonies, what? Minister for Health? It looks like Finance, maybe even Resources. Are you looking into this?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We are certainly looking into it. It is the most extraordinary revelation that the Prime Minister of Australia, in secret, is giving himself additional ministerial responsibilities. One of the great characteristics about being a Parliamentary democracy, like our own Liam, is that we do things in the open. When ministers are responsible for departments we know who they are so that they can be asked questions in Parliament about it, so that they can be held accountable for their actions. In an extraordinary way, and I don't think anybody that's commented about this this morning - and I've heard a number of interviews this morning in a number of reports, and I've been reading reports - it's apparent that no one thinks that this is acceptable. You cannot govern Australia in this secretive way. And we're yet to hear an explanation from Mr. Morrison. But none of his former colleagues who have been interviewed this morning knew about it. Mr Littleproud, didn't know about it. Apparently Mr Joyce didn't know about it. Apparently Mr Cormann didn't know about it. Now, that's an extraordinary state of affairs, that we've got a Prime Minister of Australia acting in this sort of dictatorial, but worst of all, secretive way.

BARTLETT: Well, it would appear from the early reports that the only people who knew about it, or some of the few in the cabinet already that knew about it was Christian Porter and Greg Hunt. But I didn't realise you could, actually, I never realised you could swear yourself in full stop without going to the Governor-General. So you can just take a portfolio whenever you want can you?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I'm not sure that it was done without going to the Governor-General. Again, we are looking into this, but I think that what happened was that it was kept secret and that's the problem of this. We're meant to have open arrangements in Australia, we're meant to know who the Prime Minister is and we know who the ministers are, because there's a list and it's public as to which ministers are responsible for which parts of the Government of Australia. This Prime Minister just rolled over that with a steamroller and I would sincerely hope that this never happens again, but we're looking into it to see just exactly how it did happen.

BARTLETT: Is there anything in the law and in the Constitution or the statutes that says you're not allowed to do that?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I think it would go without saying that you cannot have a secret minister. You've only got to state it to see what an absurd proposition that is. And there's many things in the Australian system of government that are just matters of convention and don't need to be written down because no one would ever think that it would be a proper thing to do. Mr Morrison had showed pretty much scant regard for convention during the entire time that he was Prime Minister, so perhaps we shouldn't be surprised, but I think we are entitled to be shocked.

BARTLETT: It is pretty amazing.


BARTLETT: All that time when Greg Hunt wasn't available, we could have could have been asking for Scott Morrison as the Health Minister. What a missed opportunity for us too.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: And we've yet to hear any explanation as to why he also swore himself in, apparently, as Finance Minister to step in for Mr Cormann when it suited him, or as Resources Minister.

BARTLETT: Which brings me which brings me to my final question, are you sure you're the only Attorney-General?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Unlike the Morrison Cabinet we have a relationship of tremendous trust in the Albanese Government. And I am 100% certain that I am the only person who has been sworn as Attorney-General of the Commonwealth.

BARTLETT: Good to hear. Let me know if you put your hand up for another one.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: (laughs) I will Liam

BARTLETT: Thanks very much for joining us this morning.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thank you for having me.