Women's Refuge is hailing new Government proposals as potentially the most exciting action in 20 years to stem New Zealand's family violence problem.
Refuge chief executive Dr Ang Jury said the discussion paper on Strengthening New Zealand's Legislative Response to Family Violence, issued by Justice Minister Amy Adams today, created the opportunity to fix all the problems with the current law.
"This is perhaps one of the most potentially exciting things we've seen since the Domestic Violence Act in 1995 because the minister or her officials have basically opened the whole thing up," she said.
"She is actually ready to look at everything from go to whoa in terms of the judicial response. No piecemeal mucking around the edges."
She welcomed all the document's main proposals around making protection orders more accessible and better enforced.
The paper proposes "empowering police or an approved non-government organisation or iwi service provider to apply for a protection order on a victim's behalf" - for example when a victim is too scared of a perpetrator to apply for an order herself.
Dr Jury said police officers could already initiate a protection order, for example when a police safety order was breached. But the new proposal could enable women's refuges to initiate protection orders themselves.
"That would be a huge boon for refuge workers," she said. "We could do it. When we hook women up with lawyers we have a refuge advocate sitting alongside them anyway."
The paper also suggests that when a protection order is breached police might be either required to arrest in all cases or required to take some action - either arrest, issuing a police safety order or referral to an agency such as an anti-violence course.
Dr Jury said mandatory arrests for all breaches was probably not practicable because respondents sometimes genuinely did not understand an order, but it might be possible to require mandatory arrest for a second breach.
"That is something that is going to be quite widely debated," she said.
She also welcomed the proposed requirement for police to take some action when called out to any family violence incident, even when they could not see anyone at fault.
"All that would result in is an agency like Refuge trying to make contact with the victim, and/or a non-violence agency trying to make contact with the perpetrator," she said.
"At that point in time they can say actually it was a nothing, we were fighting over the TV remote, and it happens. But if neighbours or passers-by are concerned enough to call police, then some follow-up of some description is needed."
She noted that the change would have to be backed up by more resources for both police and agencies.
"The home should be a safe place for all"
"No level of family violence is acceptable," Ms Adams said at the launch in central Auckland the morning.
"The home should be a safe place for all and to do this we need world leading, agile laws that work as an integrated approach across Government and non-Government sectors."
New Zealand has the highest reported rate of intimate partner violence in the developed world, and ideas floated to address that are wide-ranging and, in many cases, radical.
A review of family violence legislation has already been signalled, but today's discussion document details potential changes.
One is to form an "additional pathway" for victims, perpetrators and family who want to help stop family violence, but do not want to go through the court system.
Many people do not report violence or seek a protection order until the situation has reached "crisis point", the discussion document notes, and others don't want the perpetrator to face criminal charges or be removed from the family.
Families in these situations may still benefit from services to help stop violence, such as giving the perpetrator access to non-violence programmes.
These services require payment if a court case is not happening. An idea put forward in the document is for people to be able to refer themselves or others to services, rather than relying on the court process.
Services could include restorative justice practices or mediation, "where safe and appropriate".
Options for police when responding to family violence incidents could also be set-out in law. For example, in Victoria, Australia, police must choose whether to take criminal action, take civil action such as applying for a protection order, or make a referral to services.
Other ideas contained in the discussion document include:
• Create stand-alone family violence offences. This could include an offence of psychological violence or an offence of repeat family violence offending. Another idea is to allow a judge to take into account the seriousness of harm as part of a pattern of behaviour. In South Australia, for example, the court can consider if offending is part of "a series of criminal acts of the same or a similar character".
New Zealand judges take into account a person's previous convictions, but this is viewed as an aggravating factor and is not explicitly aimed at family violence.
• Update the legal definition of domestic violence, with one idea to more clearly explain the concept of "coercive control" - this would mean opportunities for authorities to intervene are less likely to be missed, because the significance of incidents are not underestimated.
• Make it easier to apply for protection orders and make it easier to access free legal advice, and give people an opportunity to apply for a protection order on a victim's behalf. For example, in Victoria, Australia, police can apply for the equivalent of a protection order, with or without the victims' consent.
Another proposal is for judges to have the power to vary protection orders at the time of sentencing (they can make an order currently, but not alter an existing order).
• Require police to arrest for all breaches of protection orders. The discussion document notes that this could discourage victims from calling the police.
• Give clearer direction to courts to consider the potential for parenting arrangements to expose a child or adult to further violence. The risk of violence is known to be elevated when a child is handed over to their other parent, for example.
• Make it easier for the sharing of information between the courts, police and the agencies and community organisations which deal with families. Currently, the Privacy Act can affect the ability to pick up on family violence.
Public consultation on the discussion document runs until September 18.
Ms Adams, who launched the document in Auckland today, said laws were "not the whole picture".
"We can't legislate our way out of this. But our laws are a cornerstone element in how we respond to family violence."
Today's announcement follows other measures designed to address family violence.
Other initiatives include establishing a home safety service to help people who want to leave a violent relationship and the role of a Chief Victims Advisor to provide advice to Ms Adams about victims' experiences in the justice system.
There will also be an overhaul of the Evidence Act to offer more protection to child witnesses and sexual violence victims.
The Evidence Amendment Act passed its first reading last month. It creates a presumption that child witnesses give evidence through the video of their police interview, by closed-circuit television or from behind a screen.
The Bill will also require that the defence gives notice before a trial begins if they want to introduce evidence of the complainant's previous sexual history with someone other than the defendant.
Last November, Ms Adams asked the Law Commission to resume work on an inquisitorial system for sexual abuse cases to save victims from aggressive questioning by adversarial lawyers.
Her predecessor, Judith Collins, stopped the work in 2012.