Despite escalating rates of domestic violence, the New South Wales Minister for Women and the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, has publicly admitted to not having had a direct meeting with the NSW Police Commissioner, Karen Webb. This missed connection has come to light following the tragic demise of Sydney-based teacher, Lilie James, who was said to be murdered by Paul Thijssen, a fellow teacher whom she had been seeing for a meagre five weeks before terminating their relationship.
NSW domestic violence figures have reportedly risen by 3% in the last half-decade, with more than a third of women aged 15 or over having been subjected to physical or sexual abuse. The final 10 days of October nationally saw six women lose their lives due to alleged domestic violence incidents – a number which has since catastrophically escalated to 58 fatalities as we ushered in 2023.
Jodie Harrison, during the budget estimates on Friday, was questioned about the missing prioritisation of a meeting with Commissioner Webb, given the pressing domestic violence crisis. Though she confessed to not having had direct interactions with Webb, she asserted that fruitful discussions with a number of senior officers had taken place. She expressed belief in the police force’s remarkable efforts to combat domestic and family violence.
Earlier queries also saw Harrison grappling with the financial burden of domestic violence on the state’s economy. As per the 2023-24 Gender Equality Budget Statement, it roughly translates to $3.3 billion in damages between 2020 and 2025. The perilous figure factors in lower participation and productivity, ensuing health costs, and increased consumption costs synonymous with property destruction.
The Minister’s apparent shortcomings have raised concerns among the Opposition, claiming Harrison may be “out of her depth”. Leslie Williams, the Opposition spokeswoman for women and the prevention of domestic violence, expressed her concerns about Harrison’s apparent lack of knowledge regarding the extent of the problem in NSW, her inability to answer basic budget-related questions, and the revelation of her lack of communication with the Police Commissioner.
The Greens’ representative, Abigail Boyd, also voiced concerns regarding the impending legislation criminalising coercive control, set to be implemented from July 2024. She questioned the feasibility of adequately training the police force by then, warning of potential “unintended consequences” for victims.
Despite the challenging nature of training law enforcement officers, particularly those in rural areas, plans are underway. Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ) secretary Michael Tidball asserted the presence of a detailed plan. Anne Campbell, Deputy Secretary of Strategy, Policy and Commissioning, added that face-to-face specialist police training had commenced in mid-2021, focusing on incident response, evidence recording, prosecution of offences as well as working with First Nations and multicultural communities.
Boyd underscored the significance of complete police training prior to the law’s implementation, stating potential unintended consequences if not done properly. She reiterates that the action needs to be executed with precision to avoid intensifying an already grave issue.