Hannah Clarke’s horrific murder triggers major change

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Australia will take a national approach to how it deals with coercive control under a plan drawn up by the country’s top legal officers.

Coercive control is a form of domestic and family violence that refers to patterns of abusive behavior used by an abuser to dominate another person, usually in an intimate partnership.

The issue was brought to light by the horrific murders of Hannah Clarke and her three young children in Brisbane at the hands of her ex-husband Rowan Baxter, who later took his own life.

After their deaths, it emerged that Mr Baxter had subjected Ms Clarke to increasingly manipulative and controlling behaviors before killing her and their children.

Hannah Clarke and her children Laianah, Aaliyah and Trey were murdered in 2020. Supplied
Camera iconHannah Clarke and her children Laianah, Aaliyah and Trey were murdered in 2020. Supplied Credit: Provided

Developing national principles on coercive control was at the heart of the first meeting of state and federal attorneys general since the election of the Albanian government.

The attorneys general endorsed a consultation draft of eight national principles for addressing coercive control at Friday’s meeting, chaired by Commonwealth Attorney General Mark Dreyfus.

“Sadly no one should think that the tragedy with Hannah Clarke and her children was an isolated incident and that is of course why we are taking this class action,” Mr Dreyfus told reporters on Saturday morning.

“We know that coercive control is a widespread problem. We know we need to do more to recognize this problem.

Mr Dreyfus said the National Principles, due for approval early next year, recognize that Australia needs to do more to respond to coercive control.

“They talk about how to recognize coercive control when it happens, how to listen to the surviving victims who experience coercive control,” Mr. Dreyfus told reporters on Saturday morning.

“The importance of not assuming that violence in family relationships will always necessarily involve violence.

“(And) the recognition that it may be a totally non-violent set of interactions, but nonetheless, you have this pattern of behavior.”

QT
Camera iconOn Friday, Attorney General Mark Dreyfus led a meeting of the state’s top court officers. Sean Davey. Credit: News Corp Australia

The governments of New South Wales and Queensland are preparing to make coercive control a specific criminal offence.

The proposed laws have drawn criticism from some advocates who say they could lead to vulnerable people and Indigenous women being unfairly targeted by the justice system.

Dreyfus said other states have suggested their criminal laws already allow for coercive control charges.

The attorneys general have also agreed to continue working on improving the way the criminal justice system responds to sexual violence, following plea from former Australian of the Year Grace Tame.

They also discussed progress toward model defamation reform, youth justice issues and Indigenous justice reform during their meeting on Friday.

People seeking help can contact the 24-hour national sexual assault, family and domestic violence advice line at 1800 RESPECT

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