What is the offence?

    Under this offence, a person who is, or has been, in a relationship with another person and intentionally or recklessly engages in abusive behaviour in relation to that person, is guilty of an offence.

    A person intentionally or recklessly engages in abusive behaviour if the person commits two or more acts of abuse in relation to another person and the person either intends to cause harm to, or is reckless about whether harm could be caused to, the other person. For the purposes of the offence, harm includes emotional and psychological harm. 

    The maximum penalty for intentionally engaging in abusive behaviour is imprisonment for 5 years. The maximum penalty for recklessly engaging in abusive behaviour is imprisonment for 2 years.

    However, higher penalties apply for both intentional and reckless offences if the acts of abuse involved a child. This could include directing behaviour at a child (e.g. threatening to harm the victim’s child if the victim does not comply) or circumstances where a child sees, hears or is present during one or more acts of abuse. This recognises the importance of deterring the use of children by those who engage in abusive behaviour and the damage caused by exposure of children to such behaviour.

    Intentional abuse involving a child will be a major indictable offence attracting a maximum penalty of 7 years imprisonment. Reckless abuse involving a child will have a maximum penalty of 3 years imprisonment. 

    What is a relationship?

    For the purposes of the offence, two people are in a relationship if:

    • they are married to each other
    • they are domestic partners
    • they are in some other form of intimate personal relationship in which their lives are interrelated and the actions of one affects the other. This captures intimate relationships (for example, a boyfriend and girlfriend) where the parties do not live together. It does not include other close personal relationships (for example, parents and children)

    What is an act of abuse?

    For the purposes of the offence, an act of abuse means:

    • behaviour directed at the person that is violent, threatening, intimidating, frightening, humiliating, degrading or punishing
    • depriving the person of their liberty
    • deliberately damaging property belonging to the person, or in the presence of the person
    • causing death or injury to an animal (whether or not the animal belongs to the person)
    • isolating the person from their friends, relatives or other sources of support
    • tracking or monitoring the person’s movements, activities or communications (whether by physically following the person, using technology or some other method)
    • denying the person financial, social or personal autonomy
    • denying, or threatening to deny, the person access to basic necessities including food, clothing or sleep
    • withholding, or threatening to withhold, necessary medication, medical equipment, or medical treatment from the person
    • preventing the person from entering their place of residence
    • withholding financial support necessary for meeting the reasonable living expenses of the person in circumstance in which the person is dependent on the financial support to meet those living expenses
    • preventing the person from having access to joint financial assets for the purposes of meeting normal household expenses.

    What other legislation is impacted?

    It is also proposed that the Bail Act 1985 be amended so that there will be a presumption against bail in circumstances where a person is charged with one of these offences. This would mean that the person would have to establish for the Court that there are special circumstances justifying their release on bail before bail could be granted.

    Furthermore, it is proposed that the Evidence Act 1929 be amended so that offences of abusive behaviour are included in the definition of “serious offence against the person”. This will mean that a range of provisions within the Evidence Act 1929 designed to support vulnerable witnesses will be available to alleged victims of the new offences.

    How would this be implemented?

    The proposed new criminal offence is just one of a number of potential initiatives being considered by the state government to address abusive behaviours in our community. 

    Accordingly, whilst the intention is to progress a Bill to Parliament as a matter of priority (subject to consultation), if passed, the Bill (and the offence) would not commence immediately as there is a need for a substantial lead-in period before commencement. 

    This period would be used to consider and implement supporting initiatives such as educational programs for the community and the justice system, wraparound support services for victims, and primary prevention programs. 

    Further public consultation on implementation and supporting initiatives will take place after a Bill to criminalise coercive control passes through Parliament.  

    The commencement date of a new offence will be selected solely based on community and justice system preparedness.