Family

Australia’s attorneys-general to ramp up action on coercive control

Australia’s attorneys-general have agreed to create a national plan to address coercive control as the government ramps up action to reduce domestic and family violence.

Coercive control refers to “the pattern of abusive behaviour designed to create power and dominance over another person or persons”.

This can look like controlling what someone wears, who they see or their access to money, tracking their location, and can often lead to physical violence.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus. Parliament House, Canberra.
Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus met with his state and territory counterparts to discuss coercive control. (Rhett Wyman)

State and territory attorneys-general met with their federal counterpart Mark Dreyfus on Friday to create a “national understanding” of coercive control which could eventually filter down to laws and legislation criminalising the behaviour.

It comes after vast calls for legislative reform to coercive control laws in particular after the murder of Brisbane woman Hannah Clarke and her children by Clarke’s estranged husband.

Clarke’s parents Sue and Lloyd told Today the national plan is a step in the right direction and is a “no brainer”.

“We have been hoping for this quite a long time for it to go national. For them to actually sit down and collaborate together and all states get onboard,” Mr Clarke said.

Ms Clarke added: “I am pleased to see the conversation is going on about it and people are talking about it. I am shocked people aren’t aware of what the flags are in a coercive relationship, I think we need a lot of education.”

Hannah Clarke's parents Sue and Lloyd speak on coercive control reform.
Hannah Clarke’s parents Sue and Lloyd speak on coercive control reform. (9News)
During the inquest into the murder of Hannah Clarke and her three children, it was revealed the young mum had approached police for help, fearing her estranged husband would kill her.
Hannah Clarke and her three children were murdered by her estranged husband. (9News)

The attorneys-general meeting resulted in an endorsement of a consultation draft of National Principles to Address Coercive Control, the first of its kind in Australia.

“We have agreed on a set of measures which are going to help keep women and children safer in Australia,” Dreyfus said.

“We think it will help to establish a set of national principles to help people better recognise the behaviour when it occurs.

“The important thing is people understand when to recognise coercive control, even in relationships where there is no physical violence occurring, there can be a pattern of abusive behaviour that is designed to dominate and control and can ultimately be very harmful.”

The draft includes eight principles and will identify a national approach to:

  • What coercive control is and its impacts
  • The importance of coordinated approaches when responding to incidents of coercive control and educating the community
  • “Concerns” about the misidentification of victim-survivors as perpetrators of family and domestic violence, in particular for First Nations women

“They deal with different aspects of this problem they deal with how to identify coercive control, how to listen to victim-survivors, and what steps should be taken to lower the incidence of this problem,” Dreyfus said.

The national principles are set to be approved by 2023.

The group also agreed to review the definition of consent and work towards updating legislation in relation to stealthing, which is when a person removes a condom without the other person’s consent.

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