Family Violence Animal Welfare

Melina BATH (Eastern Victoria) (10:59): I am pleased to rise to put my voice today to this motion 208 from Ms Purcell on the interaction between domestic pets – companion animals – and domestic violence. Unfortunately, there is a weaponisation of those domestic pets, who provide such unconditional love at a time generally when women and children are facing abuse in the home and are facing abuse in a variety of ways, whether that be physical abuse or sexual abuse or whether it be emotional and psychological abuse. We certainly see the use of coercive control by perpetrators to intimidate their spouse or a significant other – using these domestic animals, these companion pets, to hold the victim to ransom.

I would like to just provide some context. In my first year as an MP – and it sticks in my mind all these years later – there was a domestic violence case, and I will remain totally neutral on where and how. But it was one of my constituents, and indeed a psychologist felt this was a compelling and concerning case. Not only was there abuse of an animal, but there was significant physical abuse of the dear lady. She had moved away from the home, and at that home was her beloved horse. She was suffering physically and seeing a psychologist, but the great constraint that she was suffering from was how to get access to that horse and get the horse back to her new home. That really took the combined effort of Victoria Police and other agencies. But the power that these perpetrators have is so debilitating, and they understand the power that they have over their victim. It was pleasing to see that after much toing and froing – and indeed an intervention order of course – there was recognition that that horse did belong to her, and all did end well. But the scars of those interactions last a lifetime – not only the scars on the human but certainly the scars on the animals as well. So that is seared into my mind. I am not sure how effective we were, but I know we attempted to work through VicPol and other agencies to ensure that that situation was resolved.

A recent Victorian survey – and there have been many surveys quoted, so I will not go through all of them – shows that in 50 per cent of cases where there is domestic and family violence, the pet is either hurt or even killed. We know in those darkest of times, when a person is suffering so much, they turn to any light, any hope, any kindness and any level of unconditional love, and that is what these family pets and domestic animals can mean in times of huge significant stress.

One thing I know is very important, and I want to give a shout-out to Gippsland Women’s Health. Over many years they have run a significant awareness and education program. I am also aware that they have been into sporting clubs, our football and netball clubs, across Gippsland, talking about domestic violence to young people, to young sportspeople and to the gamut of people eating at the end of a football or netball training night to raise awareness about what violence looks like. What are the actual definition, the signs and the symptoms of that violence, within the people’s sphere of understanding – say, their friendship group or acquaintance group? They have done an amazing job, and all hail to them. I am sure there are many, many such organisations across the state.

One of the things that is quite interesting in looking at this motion is a 2018 report, Animal Victims of Domestic and Family Violence: Raising Youth Awareness, by the New South Wales Health Education Centre against Violence. It talks about completing pilot programs in schools, talking about violence against animals being an indicator of domestic violence and really drilling down into this with young people.

In this case it was specifically in relation to boys, but I am certainly not going to put a fence around that. But that was this particular case study, which said:

Innovative programs to integrate animal abuse in the context of domestic … violence, we suggest, provide a foundation for promoting the inclusion of animals in Domestic and Family Violence …

and not only in an act but certainly in veterinarian policy, so, if you go a little bit broader, for our veterinary associations, where we have all taken our beloved pets, to have an awareness around that, and also service standards, guidelines and practices in that broad range of any animal interaction. I put these as useful findings.

I also note that in 2020 the then Liberal and National New South Wales government actually legislated for including an increase in the term of or to change the definition of ‘intimidation’ in relation to including animals in, in this case, what was called the Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Act 2007. It is pleasing to see that that the then prevention of domestic violence minister Mark Speakman certainly noted the importance of that protection of animals in relation to domestic violence.

If you look at our Family Violence Protection Act 2008, there is certainly a segment that could be expanded to include this. Therefore the Nationals are looking forward to seeing this motion go through the house, I would imagine unanimously, and to seeing a review. Certainly it has to fit in, there has to be that legislative background work, but it could well be that the Allan government look to New South Wales as a good template to see how that could be incorporated.

In concluding, I understand certainly from the experience of my constituent’s particular case the awful and corrupt nature of people who choose to use innocent animals to coerce behaviour. I too love animals and always give a shout-out to – I think it still operational – the Keysborough animal shelter for providing our beloved pet. They have become part of our family. Not only is it unspeakable and unthinkable to inflict domestic violence on children, on spouses, on partners et cetera, but to do that with glee on animals is absolutely untenable.