Community legal centres & social services make submissions on coercive control legislation


Community legal centres and leaders in the social services sector have made submissions to the NSW Parliament on a draft bill which would criminalise coercive control.

In July 2022, the NSW Government released a draft bill – Crimes Legislation Amendment (Coercive Control) Bill 2022 – for public comment ahead of its introduction to Parliament.

The submissions made by social services, community legal centres and domestic violence experts outline key concerns with the Bill, and advocate for greater consultation and a phased approach to its introduction, for systemic racism in the criminal legal system to be addressed, and for greater attention to be paid to the experiences of LGBTQI+ people, First Nations women, and people with disability. 

According to the Women's Legal Service NSW, coercive control can take many forms, including "physical and sexual abuse as well as non-physical abuse, such as psychological abuse, financial and economic abuse, spiritual and cultural abuse, intimidation, stalking and technology-facilitated abuse".

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 Women's Legal Service NSW strongly advocates for a phased approach to responding to coercive control | Download submission

  • In their submission, Women's Legal Service NSW advocates for a phased approach, first legislating a contextual definition of domestic and family abuse in the Crimes (DPV) Act which must also be a ground for an apprehended violence order and at a later point considering if there is a further need for a new coercive control offence. This is consistent with the Joint Select Committee on Coercive Control recommendation to start first and as a priority with a definition of domestic and family abuse in the Crimes (DPV) Act 
  • The submission recommends that the NSW Government extends the consultation period on the Coercive Control Bill by at least 6 months and immediately introduces an independent taskforce with oversight of the drafting of legislation, implementation including cultural and systems reform as well as training, and monitoring and evaluation.
  • Women's Legal Service NSW argues that there must be significant cultural and systems reforms to the criminal legal system, particularly to ensure accurate identification of the person most in need of protection and to address the over-representation of First Nations women in custody, prior to any additional new coercive control offence being introduced.

Wirringa Baiya Aboriginal Women's Legal Centre highlights structural racism in the criminal legal system | Download submission

  • In their submission, Wirringa Baiya Aboriginal Women's Legal Centre reiterated earlier concerns that criminalising coercive control could lead to unintended consequences that harm Aboriginal women.
  • Aboriginal women in NSW continue to be grossly over-represented in custody, as recently as June 2022, Aboriginal women comprised 40% of the total female inmate population. Structural racism not only means that Aboriginal women are over-represented in the criminal legal system as offenders, but the response to Aboriginal women reporting domestic and family violence is inconsistent or poor. Wirringa Baiya Aboriginal Women's Legal Centre therefore remains highly cautious about rushing to criminalise coercive control.
  • A great deal of cultural and system reform must occur before creating a new complex offence, which will affect Aboriginal women who are also over-represented as victims of domestic and family violence.

Public Interest Advocacy Centre holds concerns that a standalone criminal offence may not increase the safety and wellbeing of women and children | Download letter

  • In their submission, Public Interest Advocacy Centre urged that more work needs to be done to improve the existing framework for the prevention of family and domestic violence before steps are taken to introduce further criminal offences.
  • Priority must be given to holistic reforms which would improve the safety of women and children.
  • The letter acknowledges the concerns raised by the Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT about the effects of criminalisation on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the danger that introducing a new stand-alone offence criminalising coercive control could further harm people facing disadvantage and victim-survivors of domestic and family abuse.
  • A key recommendation from the letter is that more extensive consultation and consideration of the issue of coercive control be undertaken before the government seeks to introduce a new offence criminalising this behaviour. Consultation should be focused on the domestic and family violence sector, including specialist services for First Nations people, and people with lived experience of domestic and family violence.

Redfern Legal Centre recommends a phased approach, with criminalisation delayed until significant investments in systemic and cultural change are made | Download submission

  • Redfern Legal Centre recommends the NSW Government adopt a phased approach to criminalising coercive control, starting first with a definition of domestic abuse, which includes coercive and controlling behaviour, in the ADVO Act before introducing a standalone criminal offence.
  • Submission proposes that legislation should include consistent definitions and examples of financial and economic abuse. It is important that financial and economic abuse are defined in the Exposure Draft Bill, so the experiences of victim survivors of economic and financial abuse are protected by the legislation, and are not excluded due to over reliance on specific examples in the Exposure Draft Bill.
  • Submission recommends that the criminalisation of coercive control is delayed until significant investments have been made in systems and cultural reform, education, training and funding of frontline services.
  • Concern that the Exposure Draft Bill does not address the additional element which distinguishes coercive control in domestic relationships, being the imbalance of power between the perpetrator and the victim-survivor. Without recognition of this power imbalance, the behaviour of victim survivors of coercive control may be misconstrued by police or even used by perpetrators to threaten police intervention.

Domestic Violence NSW does not support the draft exposure Bill in its current form, outlining three key concerns | Download submission

  • Domestic Violence NSW (DVNSW) supports the NSW Government’s efforts to respond to patterns of coercive control, it does not believe the current drafting of this legislation will lead to improved outcomes for victim-survivors of domestic and family violence or reduced homicides.
  • The submission highlights three key concerns with the draft Bill: 
    • The lack of a singular, concise definition of coercive control,
    • The omission of family and other violence,
    • The absence of an independent coercive control implementation taskforce prior to the bill reaching parliament.
  • Domestic Violence NSW is also concerned about the short timeframe for consultation and believes that further consultation is necessary. DVNSW urges the NSW Government to learn from the experience of other jurisdictions that have introduced coercive control legislation by taking time to ensure the legislation is drafted effectively.
  • A second round of targeted consultations that includes people with lived experience of coercive control and engages with the justice system on the amendments made to the first draft of the exposure bill is needed.

ACON advocates for non-legislative changes needed to prevent violence and support victim-survivors | Download submission

  • ACON supports non-legislative activities such as training for police and judiciary, capacity building of the community and health sector in LGBTQ+ inclusion as related to sexual, domestic and family violence, strengthening LGBTQ+ community-led specialist responses, investment in community education and awareness raising initiatives, and ongoing investment in non-punitive interventions for perpetrators and victim-survivors of violence.
  • Non-legislative commitments are crucial to ensuring that actions to address coercive control support the safety of victim-survivors.
  • ACON advocates for an independent, multiagency implementation taskforce to be established prior to legislation going to parliament.

People with Disability Australia concerned that Bill does not respond to the needs of people with disability | Download submission

  • Submission outlines concerns that a lack of understanding of disability will lead to unintended negative consequences for people with disability.
  • People with Disability Australia believe "it is unfair to introduce laws that only apply to intimate partnerships, when we – people with disability – experience coercive control from many people in our circles besides proposed, current or previous romantic or sexual partners. Our informal or formal supporters, or carers, can – and often do – seek to coercively control us".
  • People with Disability Australia is also concerned that behaviour from people with disability – particularly people with post-traumatic stress or trauma, cognitive or intellectual disability, acquired brain injury, and developmental conditions such as autism or autism spectrum – may be misinterpreted as being intentionally or recklessly coercive.
  • Submission recommends safeguards are put in place to prevent people with disability being charged based on behaviour related to their disability rather than behaviour that is coercive control.

Dr Jane Wangmann says this is not a reform to ‘do quickly’ but to ‘do well’ | Download submission

  • Submission recommends the Government should immediately establish an independent implementation and monitoring taskforce to oversee the drafting of the proposed legislation, the implementation framework, and the monitoring of the amendments once legislated.
  • It is recommended that the NSW Government adopt the four-year phased approach recommended by the Queensland Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce.
  • Implementation needs to be considered expansively and not narrowly focused on the new offence. It needs to include cultural and institutional change for all key actors; police, legal practitioners, judicial officers and support workers.
  • There should be inserted in the Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Act 2007 a definition of ‘domestic and family abuse’.

Economic Abuse Reference Group recommends changes to ensure the Bill adequately addresses economic and financial abuse | Download submission

  • Economic abuse can take various forms, including accruing debt or other liabilities in the other person’s name, not contributing to joint loans, controlling all finances, not making shared financial decisions, withholding necessities, preventing someone from obtaining or remaining in employment, and stopping someone from accessing education or a means to become financially independent.
  • While the Economic Abuse Reference Group is pleased to see that behaviours comprising financial and economic abuse are described in the Draft Bill, these terms need to be explicitly defined in the legislation and the behaviours described consistently.
  • Domestic and family violence does not occur in a vacuum and that the introduction of an offence criminalising coercive control will have broader impacts that require consideration, such as how the offence will interact with the family law system, migration law and social security.
  • Submission advocates for examples of economic abuse and financial abuse to be consistent in both the Crimes Act and the ADVO Act, and for definitions of economic abuse and financial abuse to be harmonised across Australian jurisdictions.

Community Legal Centres NSW advocates for systems and service readiness, with adequate social housing a key to addressing gendered violence | Download the submission

  • Community Legal Centres NSW outlines the importance of housing in addressing gendered violence. In recognition of the fact that domestic and family violence is the single largest driver of homelessness for women and children, the NSW Government must ensure that building adequate social housing is placed at the core of all government efforts to address gendered violence. This includes increasing levels of support and human services available in regional, rural, and remote communities, particularly for social housing, safe and emergency accommodation, counselling, and drug treatment and rehabilitation services.
  • Eligibility for temporary accommodation, crisis accommodation and social housing needs to be amended, so that everyone experiencing sexual, domestic and family violence and abuse has a safe place to live, regardless of visa status.
  • The submission recommend the NSW Government croaden the application of the legislation from intimate partner to domestic relationship. Use the current definition of ‘domestic relationship’ in section 5 of the CDPV Act 2007 will ensure consistency across legislation, set community norms and encapsulate the range of domestic relationships in which coercive control can occur.
  • Further criminalising coercive control comes with a high risk for victim-survivors who are predominantly women and children. Regular and ongoing review of coercive control legislation is recommended to ensure that the legislation has the intended consequences.