NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman says a bill introduced to parliament on Wednesday, making the state the first jurisdiction to criminalise coercive control, could mean “the difference between life and death”.
Mr Speakman said it could help prevent tragedies like the 2020 murder of Hannah Clarke and her three children by former partner Rowan Baxter from happening in the future.
The legislation will make coercive control a stand-alone offence carrying a maximum penalty of seven years in prison.
Writing for The Australian, Mr Speakman says coercive control is “not as easy to detect as bruises or broken bones but … can be deadly”.
“Abusers often take pains to isolate victim-survivors from friends, family and support systems, making detection even harder,” he says. “It’s a proven precursor to domestic violence deaths.”
Coercive control is a pattern of abuse intended to dominate, oppress and trap another individual, and has attracted significant attention after the murder of Clarke and her children in February 2020.
A coronial inquest into her death found Baxter had a history of controlling behaviours he exercised over Clarke, which included not allowing her to wear certain things in public, have her own Facebook page or attend some family gatherings.
In response, governments including NSW and Queensland committed to introducing legislation to criminalise coercive control to improve early intervention for domestic violence and intimate partner killings.
Federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has also led a push for a nationally consistent approach, releasing draft “principles” earlier this year that included an agreed-upon definition of coercive control.
In legislation presented to NSW parliament on Wednesday, a new stand-alone offence for coercive control will be created, making it illegal for someone to “intentionally carry out abusive behaviours repeatedly or continuously towards a current or former intimate partner, with a maximum sentence of seven years’ imprisonment”.
“These landmark reforms are crucial to ensuring we recognise in law a pattern of behaviour identified as a precursor to domestic violence deaths and which is obnoxious in its own right,” Mr Speakman writes for The Australian.
The legislation comes after NSW conducted about seven rounds of consultation in the past two years, which included a discussion paper, parliamentary inquiry and exposure draft bill.
The Parliamentary Joint Select Committee on Coercive Control, launched in October 2020, received more than 150 written submissions and unanimously recommended criminalising coercive control.
Mr Speakman confirmed the laws would not come into effect for at least another 14 months “to allow plenty of time for training, resourcing, education and community awareness raising, guided by a multidisciplinary taskforce”.
Sue Price
Men’s Rights Agency