Dowry Abuse

Grievance Debate

On 31 August of this year, an article was published in The Advertiser regarding the prevalence of dowries—these are payments usually made by a bride's family in contemplation of marriage—and the inherent risks they pose, particularly to migrant women. Currently, the Senate Standing Committees on Legal and Constitutional Affairs is undertaking an inquiry into dowry abuse. The Legal Services Commission of South Australia, among others, presented a submission outlining the rising number of requests for legal assistance from women from countries where dowries have been traditionally practised. The committee is due to hand down their report on 6 December.

The consequence of purchasing a bride is that a woman is traded off as property. Dowry abuse can take many forms, including demanding further money from the bride's family, denying these women access to money or treating them as slaves. I want to reassure the house that the government takes these concerns seriously and regards them as nothing less than domestic and family violence.

Currently, dowry abuse can be captured, depending on the nature of conduct, under offences such as unlawful threats, blackmail, assault, causing harm or serious harm (including psychological harm), acts endangering life or sexual offences. In addition, the Intervention Orders (Prevention of Abuse) Act 2009 would enable the victim of dowry abuse to seek an intervention order. I also note that the Victorian government has recently passed legislation to explicitly ban dowry abuse. This government will carefully consider the wording of this legislation and whether such changes are required in South Australia that would be of assistance to victims.

Since coming into office, this government has prioritised domestic and family violence prevention. Last year, there were 23 convictions for murder in South Australia, of which 10 also featured domestic violence. It is a staggering statistic and the highest in the country, and it needs to be addressed. Our government's commitment provides for nearly $12 million in funding in respect of new crisis accommodation. An app has been announced that will provide a quick way for women who are unable to make a phone call to notify police or trusted individuals. Of course, there is a significant area of reform in relation to intervention orders and, in particular, the enforcement of them, and we have recently announced a 12-month statewide trial in domestic violence disclosure, colloquially known as Clare's Law.

We are proud of these initiatives, and we have further opened up consultation for proposed reforms to our current laws. This includes introducing a new offence for non-fatal strangulation—as we now know, hands are the weapon of choice—and allowing video evidence from SAPOL to be used in court. Importantly, we are committed to keeping victims of domestic violence informed when there are changes or changes to be considered to bail or parole conditions by the perpetrators.

Members, I would ask you to inform yourselves about the concern that this government has in respect of this significant area of abuse in the community. This side of the house had previously presented legislation to try to ensure that protection was given to children who were removed from the jurisdiction and who might have been the subject of genital mutilation in respect of a cultural practice. It took some time to encourage the opposition to support the legislation to amend that and have that protection including, as an expansion, the confiscation of passports to facilitate that type of practice.

We must act in relation to this matter. We will look at the legislation, and we hope that the whole of the parliament will be with us in supporting it. With new and emerging ways in which people can treat each other disrespectfully, shamefully and illegally, we hope that the whole of the parliament will be with us to ensure that we protect women and children in these circumstances.