Alister Henskens portrait
Alister Henskens portrait

Safer Pathway Program

Alister posing with NSW Government MPs and NSW Police

Mr ALISTER HENSKENS ( Ku-ring-gai ) ( 12:11 :36 ): Today I speak about the Government's Safer Pathway program to fight domestic violence, which will begin in Ku-ring-gai in March 2017. There would be few, if any of us in this place or in the wider community, who have not heard of the case of Rachelle Yeo, the vibrant young Sydney woman brutally stabbed to death in her northern beaches apartment by her former lover. Rachelle had not only walked away from their relationship; she had to escape her former partner by moving to a different State and a different location in Sydney. Tragically, it did not save her. Her murderer and former workmate, Paul Mulvihill, found out her address by spotting it on an envelope on the passenger seat of her car. What unfolded was a meticulous plan by Mulvihill to kill Rachelle, which he did in her home in July 2012. Thankfully, Mulvihill is in jail for another 20 years at least, but that is little comfort to the Yeo family, who have lost a beautiful soul.

Of course, domestic violence is not only a crime committed by men against women, but statistically it is overwhelmingly the case. Figures in New South Wales suggest up to 69 percent of domestic violence cases in New South Wales are committed by men against women. In some other Australian jurisdictions the figures are even more sobering. Often victims of domestic violence simply do not know where to turn, what agency to phone or approach, or how to ensure their attacker is being monitored. Sadly, so daunting is the prospect of reaching out for help and security, let alone action against the offender, that victims do not speak up at all, doing their best to hide their pain and that inflicted on their children, who are put through the mental anguish of witnessing the violence.

A new government initiative, the Safer Pathway program, will create a coordinated response in which government agencies combine to guide the victim through the processes necessary for the victim to be safe from domestic violence. Safer Pathway puts the safety of victims and their children at the centre of the response. The key elements of Safer Pathway are a domestic violence safety assessment tool to better and consistently identify the level of threat to victims, which includes a checklist of questions to gauge the level of danger a victim is in; a central referral point to electronically manage and monitor referrals; a statewide network of local coordination points staffed by specialist workers to provide victims with case coordination and referral to a safety action meeting if necessary. Safety action meetings involve agencies including Police, Health, Family and Community Services and Corrective Services, where they share relevant information in order to lessen or prevent serious threats to the safety of victims and their children.

My parliamentary colleague the member for Davidson and I were privileged in recent weeks to have the Minister for Women, Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, the Hon. Pru Goward, at Gordon police station in the electorate of Ku-ring-gai to make an announcement in relation to the Safer Pathway program. The Northern Beaches and Ku-ring-gai police local area commands have been selected as part of the rollout of the Safer Pathway program in 21 areas of the State. The Safer Pathway program is a $53 million commitment by the Baird Government over four years and I am very pleased that Ku-ring-gai will be part of the program from March 2017.

Women's Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Services in my area alone are reporting upwards of 4,000 contacts a year. The following is an example of how Safer Pathway works in ways more effective than has been the case in the past. A male offender at Tweed Heads was assessed as being highly dangerous, with a history of domestic and family violence offences. He had been charged with a number of assault offences against the female victim—his partner—and he had an extensive criminal record. The local coordination point established as part of Safer Pathway was working with the victim, providing support, court advocacy and referrals. Local police advised the safety action meeting, also established within Safer Pathway, that the offender was on bail and was required to report to a police station in another part of New South Wales three times a week as part of his bail conditions. However, a community health representative attached to the Safer Pathway program established that records indicated the offender was at that time a voluntary patient in the mental health unit at the local hospital very close to the victim and not far away, as first thought.

Those thorough checks ensured the offender was made aware that the authorities knew his whereabouts and they reinforced that he was to travel immediately to the distant town upon discharge from the psychiatric unit. The psychiatric unit staff escorted the offender onto a bus to travel to the location across the State and police were to follow up to ensure he did not get off the bus before he reached that destination. The offender did, in fact, get off the bus at the next stop, which allowed police to follow up and ensure the safety of his ex-partner. The offender was made accountable for his actions and his victim received increased safety. The effective sharing of information between government and other agencies acted to thwart the offender's attempts to gain access to the victim—a safe and satisfactory ending to this story. I am proud to be part of a government that has introduced the Safer Pathway program to ensure effective coordination of government action in the prevention of domestic violence.