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NSW A-G to introduce bill outlawing coercive control

The Attorney-General of NSW Mark Speakman is set to bring a bill before the State Parliament this week to criminalise coercive control.

user iconKeonia Swift 12 October 2022 Politics
NSW A-G to introduce bill outlawing coercive control
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If the bill is passed, NSW will be the first Australian state or territory to criminalise coercive control as a separate offence, following a joint select committee recommendation for it mid-last year. The looming bill was recently discussed in a Law Society of NSW-hosted panel event. 

Coercive control, Mr Speakman said, is a known warning sign for homicide involving domestic violence. He argued that the idea that this bill might literally make the difference between life and death is not an exaggeration.

According to Dr Nithya Reddy, the most common trigger for intimate partner homicide is coercive control as a pattern of behaviour.


“My beloved sister, Dr Preethi Reddy, was killed by a former intimate partner who had been non-physically abusive throughout the relationship,” Dr Reddy said. “She did not recognise the danger of this course of conduct as her killer’s first act of physical violence was to take her life.”

Reflecting on this, Dr Reddy believes that her sister Preethi would be alive today if coercive control had been made illegal sooner.

Professor Evan Stark, who is widely regarded as the world’s leading authority on coercive control, said: “Coercive control is a systematic violation of rights and liberties. This is a wise and brave law to help those held hostage in their own lives by domestic terrorism.”

The Crimes Legislation Amendment (Coercive Control) Bill 2022, introduced by the NSW government, would amend the Crimes Act 1900 to include a new offence of coercive control, complete with safeguards against its abuse. 

The five-part, separate crime, which has a maximum penalty of seven years, needs proof beyond a reasonable doubt of the following:

  1. An adult engages in a course of conduct repeatedly and continuously;
  2. The course of conduct is “abusive behaviour” that involves violence, threats or intimidation; and/or coercion or control of the person against whom the behaviour is directed;
  3. The accused intends the course of conduct to coerce or control the other person;
  4. A reasonable person would consider the course of conduct would be likely to cause the other person fear that violence will be used against them or a serious adverse impact on their capacity to engage in some or all of the other person’s ordinary day-to-day activities; and
  5. The course of conduct is directed at a current or former intimate partner.
According to the president of the NSW Bar Association, Gabrielle Bashir SC, making coercive control a crime will help the criminal justice system deal with patterns of behaviour that are currently not well covered by the law.

“The case for the criminalisation of this conduct as reflected in the draft legislation is backed by extensive evidence heard by the joint select committee, including first-hand accounts from victim-survivors and evidence from community groups and legal experts. The committee also considered available data and examined legislative reform in other jurisdictions,” Ms Bashir said.  

“An important part of the offence is that the adult intends the course of conduct to coerce or control the other person. Setting the bar at intention rather than a lower mental state will limit the spectre of the offence being used as a weapon against the very people that it is designed to protect. This is an important safeguard to reduce the offence being misapplied to already marginalised communities and people in intimate relationships who are in need of the protection of the law.”

Important precautions have been placed in the law to minimise the danger of impact on Aboriginal communities after discussion with stakeholders, including Aboriginal-led organisations. These safeguards include limiting the scope to intimate relationship situations only. 

Executive director of Legal Aid NSW, Monique Hitter, has stated that the NSW government is correct in limiting its attention to current and previous intimate partners.

“While coercive control can exist outside intimate partner relationships, we believe that the risks of including a broader range of relationships would outweigh the potential benefits,” Ms Hitter concluded.