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Public hearing 17: The experience of women and girls with disability, Hobart - Part 2 - Day 2

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MS EASTMAN:  Good morning, everyone following the hearing. We are here in Hobart this morning. There has been a few changes this morning. Unfortunately, the Chair of the Royal Commission is not able to join us in Hobart this morning and so we have in the hearing room this morning Commissioner Mason and Commissioner Bennett, and Commissioner Galbally continues to participate in our hearing from her home in Melbourne. So I want to start this morning by asking Commissioner Mason to give us our Welcome to Country and our Acknowledgment of Country. Thank you. 

COMMISSIONER MASON:  Thank you, Ms Eastman. As a Ngaanyatjarra and Kronie woman, I wish to pay my respects and acknowledge the First Nations people of the land on which the Royal Commission is sitting today. 

We acknowledge the Muwinina people, the traditional custodians of the land on which Nipaluna, the city of Hobart, is now located.

We recognise the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation where the city of Melbourne is now situated.

We recognise Meaanjin, Brisbane. We recognise the country north and south of the Brisbane River, as the home of both the Turrbul and Jagera nations, whose land is now where the city of Brisbane is located.

We also wish to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the various lands on which you all virtually appear from and any First Nations peoples who are participating in this hearing especially women, Minymaku, and children, tjitjiku, with disability.

Thank you, Ms Eastman. 

MS EASTMAN:  Thank you, Commissioner Mason. I want to start this morning by just providing an overview of the proceeding today and the witnesses that are to appear during the course of the day. Yesterday, I gave some content warnings, and we will put up on the screen again the telephone numbers and the contact details, if anyone finds the evidence that they listen to today distressing and they would like an opportunity to speak to somebody.

Today will also be a day where we will hear distressing and difficult evidence. The Royal Commission wishes to support all the women giving evidence today, and we look forward to hearing them sharing their experiences and accounts with us. We will shortly start with our first witness, who is already here in the hearing room, Catherine Dunn. She's a deaf woman, and she will tell you, Commissioners, about her personal experiences of sexual assault as a young woman, and she will also speak about the support for deaf women, the need for education and a better understanding of consent.

Ms Dunn's evidence will be followed by us moving to Brisbane, and Ms Tarrago will take the evidence of Etana. Etana is a First Nations woman. She will speak about her experience of violence in her family growing up, but also as an adult. She will speak about her experiences with verbal and physical violence with a former partner. She will share her insights on how intergenerational trauma impacts First Nations people and how she has developed a business to support others, particularly young people, to navigate through similar challenges. 

We will then break for morning tea, and after morning tea, we will return again to our Brisbane hearing room, and you will have an opportunity to hear from Donna Barlow. She is a survivor of sexual violence. She describes herself as a forgotten Australian. She will tell you a little bit about her life, her relationships, and her experience of violence and abuse. 

After we have heard from Donna Barlow, I had the opportunity last year to pre-record some evidence with Clarisse. Clarisse will speak about her experiences of her daughter, Romi. 
Romi is a woman who lives with intellectual disability, epilepsy and developmental delays.  During the discussion I had with Clarisse, she told us about Romi and her experiences of sexual violence, how Clarisse and Romi together have worked through a range of issues and concerns. They know it's not necessarily easy to overcome the experience of sexual 
violence, but they will talk about how to live alongside trauma from their experiences. 

We will then break for lunch, and after lunch, you will hear from Ester Simbi. She was born 
in South Sudan, and she lives with a disability. She will tell you about her experiences of physical, emotional and financial abuse by her former husband. She will tell you about cultural misunderstanding of the word disability in her community and that if you are a woman, it adds another layer of disadvantage. She will tell you how and why she found herself in the wrong relationship. She will talk about her decision making being taken away from her and when she decided enough was enough, she wanted to make decisions for herself, that was the end of her relationship. 

Then this afternoon, our last witness will be Taya Ketelaar Jones. She's a lawyer. She works with the Tasmanian Refugee Legal Service and the Migrant Family Violence Service. She will talk to you about the experience of women with disability from CALD and migrant families, difficulties about accessing services, but specifically about dealing with family violence when you're both subject to the Migration Act and dependent on your visa status   particularly if it's a spouse visa   and the opportunity to be able to access services more broadly. She will talk about her experience in giving advice to clients in navigating the Migration Act where her clients have experience of family and domestic violence. 

As with the hearing yesterday, we will try to keep to time as far as possible but there needs to be obviously some flexibility during the day and we will keep people up to date on the timeframes if they vary at all. So, Commissioners, I will now turn to Catherine Dunn. 

COMMISSIONER MASON:  And is Ms Dunn going to be taking an affirmation or the oath?

MS EASTMAN:  Ms Dunn is going to take an affirmation, and if it is convenient, I will administer that affirmation to Ms Dunn. 


MS EASTMAN:  Commissioners, the two interpreters who are working with Ms Dunn have already made their affirmations. 



MS EASTMAN:  So, Ms Dunn, can I introduce you?You are Catherine Dunn. And can I ask 
you this:  Do you solemnly and sincerely declare and affirm that the evidence you shall give will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

MS DUNN:  Yes. 

MS EASTMAN:  Thank you, Ms Dunn. 

COMMISSIONER MASON:  Ms Dunn, just to let you know where we are today, the Commissioners, in Melbourne is Dr Rhonda Galbally AC, on Wurundjeri country. Beside me 
is Ms Barbara Bennett PSM. And, of course, we've been introduced, Andrea Mason OAM. 
So Ms Eastman is going to ask you some questions now. 

MS EASTMAN:  Thank you, Ms Dunn. I want to start, Ms Dunn, by asking you to tell the Royal Commission about yourself. What would you like to tell us in introducing yourself?

MS DUNN:  Hello, my name is Catherine Dunn. My pronouns are she/her. I originally grew 
up in regional Victoria then I moved to Melbourne for better access to education for deaf children. I lived with a host family at that time, until I had completed school, and now I 
work in advocacy. I still live in Melbourne and I am a disability advocate. 

MS EASTMAN:  And, as you know, this hearing is about the experiences of women and girls and family, domestic, sexual violence and abuse. You have experienced sexual violence and abuse. You were sexually assaulted when you were a teenager, and that assault happened 
at a party. And you have also experienced sexual abuse at times when you've been a university student. 

MS DUNN:  Yes, that's right. 

MS EASTMAN:  The questions I want to ask you today is not about what happened with respect to those assaults, but your experiences at the time, in terms of who you could speak to, the supports that were available, and, looking back on those events, we're going to talk about your ideas for reform and change. So can I start with your experience as a teenager.  When you were sexually assaulted at the party, how did you feel and what happened after?

MS DUNN:  Thank you for that question. I think the first thing is really to important that   really important to acknowledge at the time, but, at school, I was already experiencing mental health issues and barriers to finding the appropriate supports.   I had originally moved from the country and moved to Melbourne to receive better education, but my wellbeing   when I tried to access services, it wasn't culturally appropriate. They didn't understand my language needs. 

And when the assault occurred I thought, "Where can I go?Who can I tell?My parents live very far away from me. I use Auslan to communicate. "  And at the time, I also didn't have 
the words or the language to describe what occurred and who I was as a person. For me, 
the wellbeing just wasn't supported or acknowledged. I tried to talk with friends, but they were the same age as me and they didn't know how to respond themselves. 

And later on, I had also found out that that friend I had disclosed to had also experienced a similar situation. So when I first disclosed, my friend felt a real burden to do something, but they didn't also have the right words or the right support that they could offer me. And the support at school was not enough. So I just dropped the whole idea, and it wasn't until later on, when another experience occurred of sexual assault. 

I was a bit older. I was already working in the area of disability advocacy, and so I had experienced many   many people that I had worked with telling me about their experiences too. So I had more knowledge around that area. 

MS EASTMAN:  As a teenager, not knowing what to do or who to speak to, how did that have an impact on your mental health?

MS DUNN:  Well, I was already struggling. My mental health was getting worse and worse. I was searching for many health services to try and find some support, but it wasn't until last year that I finally found   my seventh psychologist   at the age of 22 I was able to start unpacking what had happened to me in the past. 

MS EASTMAN:  When, as a teenager, you had this experience, did you think about going to the police at all?

MS DUNN:  No. Because my initial response was, "Well, what can they do?"  They're all people that hear. And if I talk about the person who assaulted me, they're a deaf person as well.   So I am giving a negative representation of my own community 

MS EASTMAN:  Moving forward, when you were at university, you had further experiences of sexual assault. The man you met up with at university had witnessed the sexual assault that had occurred to you as a teenager, and with that man, you initially consented but then changed your mind and withdrew your consent. That man did not understand   he didn't respect your decision and sexually assaulted you. He also wanted to film the sexual encounter, and you found that very distressing, and you didn't consent. After that experience, what were you able to do to seek support or to talk to someone about what had happened to you?

MS DUNN:  I think it's really important to acknowledge that, from the first instance, I didn't actually ask for help. If I was in the right position to say, "This is what's happened to me", I felt manipulated, I felt that the situation was   I'm making a drama out of it. I thought I was going to be fine. But then the instance at university was doubly impacting and traumatic for me because I realised that something was wrong. 

And at that time, I had received training at work, and also I was a resident at the university and other people had had instances like that happen, but people had also had similar training to me. And this was a trigger, because here I am, as a disability support worker, and I'm supporting people who have gone through the same sort of occurrence as I have, and here I am trying to support those and their wellbeing, but I felt like I was just talking to a wall when I went to access services. 

I also didn't have an interpreter there, so I was forced to speak. And the wellbeing officer that I spoke with had no understanding of my cultural history, of being a deaf woman, and it really wasn't worth pursuing. I did ask police for some advice because there was a camera that was involved and I realised what if, what could have happened with that footage. And the response was a bit, "Well, um, I guess we need the evidence. What time of day. What was it?" 

There was no, "Oh, gosh, sorry that happened" or anything. There was no acknowledgment of it actually happening. They just jumped straight into, "When did it happen?What date? What time?"  And I just, again, decided to forget about it and not do anything about it. And it wasn't until a welfare officer said to me, "Something did happen to you" but because I was   I had never been taught growing up to actually say no   if I'm feeling uncomfortable, if I'm not feeling in the right space and time, it is okay for me to say no. I was never taught that. 

MS EASTMAN:  Can I ask you, then, from that response to talk about consent?And one of the topics you wanted to talk about was understanding consent, sex education that might be a little bit more than just the birds and the bees, but actually understanding about respectful relationships. That's an important topic for you, and part of it is also having the discussion about deaf men understanding appropriate and respectful boundaries and respectful relationships. We've heard in the Royal Commission that one of the drivers of sexual violence is gender inequality. Being a member of the deaf community adds an extra layer. Can you talk to us about that?

MS DUNN:  Well, I think the first thing   one story that comes to mind is 2013, we had our very first election of Julia Gillard as our first female prime minister. What an exciting time. There was an equality of women being in these positions. And the same year, Jill Meagher was raped and murdered in the city of Melbourne. The same time I thought, "We are gaining grounds of equality. We have a female prime minister. But we don't feel safe in our own town. We are still not equal. "

Growing up I have always been told as a deaf person my feeling of insecurity, my feeling of unease wasn't important. The medical model of disability removed my consent. It disenfranchised me as a deaf person, me as part of a CALD community. And there are many stories of audiology, of needing to be fixed, needing to be checked, needing equipment. 
And I always had to say yes to these things. 

I remember needing to get moulds for new hearing aids, and after the appointment, I walked out crying. And mum asked me, "What's going on? " And I just felt like an alien. I 
felt like I was being invaded. There was never consent. It wasn't a concept that I had 
owned. And on top of that, as a woman, always being leered at, looked at. And then later with my experiences of sexual assault and being asked, "Did you give consent?" I never thought that that was something that I could do. 

MS EASTMAN:  Why do you think that's the case?

MS DUNN:  Many people with intersectionalities think about   I'm a woman, I'm deaf, I'm part of the disability community, I'm part of the CALD community. I grew up in regional Victoria. If we understand all of these parts, they are not separate. They're all intertwined. So we can't really unpack the power play between men and women until we unpack the thinking of people who hear, people who are deaf, disability, and how it's all relative. 

I went to an audiologist to receive new hearing aids and the audiologist told me, "We will let you know, the new hearing aids will be a bit discombobulating for a while. You'll feel overwhelmed. "  I know. I grew up as a deaf person. I'm used to all of these experiences. I received the new hearing aids and, actually, it did occur. The sound was dreadful in my 
ears. It was like grating down the wall. Like chalk on a blackboard. 

I had never experienced that before, and I looked over at my mum, and my mum felt stuck. What does she do?Does she side with me or does she side with the medical practitioner?  It's not her fault, but she did. She sided with the professional. And later, I was in my bedroom. I was in tears. I was sitting on a bean bag holding my head. It felt dreadful. My parents came in   and usually I'm out and about, chatting away with everyone and   they said to me, "Why are you so quiet?Why are you holding on to your ears like this?"

And they said, "Okay, let's go back to the audiologist and let them know. " And they said, "But you will get used to it. " I gave back the hearing aids. I said, "They're broken. "  They were broken, and I didn't have them for a week. They went off to be repaired, and that's an example of when I was told "You don't matter. Be quiet. You listen to the professional. "

MS EASTMAN:  So how do you change that as a deaf woman, being able to speak for yourself, make your own decisions and to live a life where you can show consent, whether it be to medical treatment, but also to consent in intimate and personal relationships?

MS DUNN:  I think it's important to have deaf role models. I would have loved   looking back, I would have loved to have some time in the room with the audiologist, with a deaf person with me who had gone through a similar experience.  As a deaf person, 95 per cent of deaf children are born to families who all hear. So we're in a world   growing up in a world where we're different, where I'm a deaf person. And what I don't have is the understanding or the experience of somebody else to really know who   to start to get to know who I am. 

I didn't have somebody who was fluent in sign to talk with me about life experiences as a deaf person. I went through VCE and people look at me and say, "You're very well educated", but I'm still stuck for words. I haven't been given opportunities or the space and time. The deaf community has never been encouraged to talk about what's happened and what is happening. So a lot of the time, we find we don't have the words to be able to describe what is going on. 

MS EASTMAN:  How do you start that conversation?

MS DUNN:  I think it's about empowering the deaf community. To remove that outdated idea of "help". It's patronising. We need to empower the deaf community to support one another. There's an amazing frameworks and systems in the wider community that are support services for those who have experienced family and domestic violence. I was reading the Churchill Fellowship. There was a deaf woman in Australia and her name is Debra Swann. 

She had done research across the world, and it was an amazing cultural approach to how we can receive support if we have experienced family and domestic violence. But it's not only about a reactive support; it's about a proactive support. If deaf community members are able to talk about what they have experienced, this means that we can start to realise these things that are occurring are not okay. 

But also when I bring this back to my own experience of my sexual assault, I was also triggered when I was in the room with the audiologist. So we need to work with the deaf community. We need to learn about trauma-informed care and support. This needs to be a daily conversation. It's not about disability. It's not even about hearing loss. It's about our community, our culture, our language. We need the appropriate support and programs. 

We need this as part of our life's journey because I have stated before what I have experienced, and I didn't receive that support, and we still cannot receive the sufficient support to ensure that we can move forward from here. 

MS EASTMAN:  Do you know what the situation is with respect to counselling and support services for deaf women who have experienced family, domestic or sexual violence? Is that something you have worked on as part of your work as an advocate?

MS DUNN:  At the moment, in my work, what I see is mainstream services. They provide access. They might bring in captioning or an interpreter. In respect to access, they're not going far enough. As a deaf woman, this is always at the forefront of my mind. If I say what happened to me and this person is providing support, and I talk about the perpetrator who is within my community, I'm very aware that when I go back to my community, people are going to want to know who, how, when, where, what happened. 

So in providing my evidence here today, I am worried about is there enough time?  Do I have that trust in interpreters to understand me and to be able to translate that information for all of you to understand?I need to be able to heal without having all of these compounding impacts on how I am going to reach a time of healing when I need to also navigate my way through, making sure that I am appropriately heard. 

MS EASTMAN:  This might relate to the last point I wanted to ask you, and you talk about Auslan being accessible for everyone.  Auslan isn't a foreign language.  It's an Australian sign language, and it should be treated this way.  If Auslan was more accessible, do you think that would start to break down some of those barriers in what you have described as the mainstream support, be it counselling services, support for women, access to broader supports for other women who have experienced sexual violence. Would that be a way of breaking down those barriers?

MS DUNN:  Well, for sure. Having access to Auslan, that's giving voice to us being able to express my feelings, my experiences. My parents worked so hard for me. They would   so that I could access education and language. For four years of my life, they drove me from country Victoria to Melbourne. It was exhausting. When I was 5 or 6, I stayed in country Victoria, and then when I was 15 I moved down to Melbourne. And when I was 15, I started to mix with other deaf peers. 

And my signing skill at the time was as if I was a 7 year old compared to my peers, but the experiences of sexual assault occurring amongst my peers was prevalent. And there was no way to really detail what was going on and what was happening. I was learning to use Auslan as my everyday language, and I remember in the classroom I had very limited sex education. I remember the interpreter asking me, "What's the sign for this?What's the sign for that?" During my sex ed class. 

So I think it's really important not only about having Auslan that is accessible to all, but having people who work with deaf community members, particularly children, who are proficient in the use of sign language and also have a strong knowledge and understanding of our culture and community. 

MS EASTMAN:  Catherine, thank you very much for your evidence. Is there anything else that we haven't covered that I have forgotten to ask you about that you wanted to tell the Commissioners?

MS DUNN:  I think, for me, the thing is things have already happened.  The myth that it's too early to talk about this stuff, that's such an old way of thinking.  The idea of consent with everyday situations, it doesn't matter how accessible things are, just remember that a deaf person, a deaf woman, there's always layers of disadvantage. I want to call a support service, but I have to make sure that I can access them with SMS.  Have they worked with interpreters before?Will be I persecuted by the community that I live and breathe in? 
There needs to be much more consideration about all of the layers that we carry and that are included within our experiences. 

MS EASTMAN:  Thank you very much for your evidence. Commissioners, I'm not sure if you have any questions that you wish to ask Catherine. 

COMMISSIONER BENNETT:  Catherine, I just wanted to say thank you so much.  Being able to share your experience and draw from that insights and to stand back and to make proposals to us, we really appreciate it. Thank you very much. 

COMMISSIONER MASON:  Dr Galbally, do you have any questions? 

COMMISSIONER BENNETT:  You are on mute. 

COMMISSIONER MASON:  Sorry, we can't hear you there. 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:  I would also like to thank you very much indeed for that, and to draw the parallel between the medical model and your disempowerment there and relating to your setting the scene for sexual violence and feeding it, I thought that was really interesting and very important, actually. Thank you.

COMMISSIONER MASON:  Ms Dunn, on behalf of the Commissioners, I would like to thank you for appearing today and giving your evidence to the Disability Royal Commission. It's gratefully appreciated. 


Thank you. Ms Eastman, is it time now to receive Ms Dunn's statement into evidence?

MS EASTMAN:  It is. Thank you. If you can receive the statement. I will just get the exact exhibit number in a moment. 


MS EASTMAN:  I will come back to that later in terms of the material that we might tender. So at this point, Commissioners, we are ahead of time. We are travelling nicely. And it may be convenient just to have a 10-minute break before we then turn to Brisbane. 

COMMISSIONER MASON:  Thank you, Ms Eastman. 



COMMISSIONER MASON:  Thank you, Ms Eastman. 

MS EASTMAN:  Thank you, Commissioners. We now turn to Brisbane, and I can see Ms Tarrago on the screen. She will take our next witness. Thank you. 

COMMISSIONER MASON:  Thank you, Ms Tarrago. I understand the witness has been sworn in?

MS TARRAGO:  That's correct, Commissioner. And I will just confirm that the witness is online. Do we have Etana?

ETANA:  Yes. Yes, I'm here. 

COMMISSIONER MASON:  Thank you, Ms Tarrago. 



MS TARRAGO:  Excellent, thank you. So, Etana, thank you for speaking with us today. Now, your name and address is known to the Royal Commission, and you've prepared a statement for the Royal Commission that you signed on 9 February 2022. Is that statement true and correct to the best of your knowledge and belief?

ETANA:  Yes. 

MS TARRAGO:  And do you have a copy of that with you today?

ETANA:  Yes. 

MS TARRAGO:  Excellent. Now, I'm going to ask you some questions about that statement, and I might refer to some of the information contained in it.  And there might be some topics that you are particularly interested to talk about as well. But I wanted to begin by introducing you. You are a First Nations woman from northern Australia. 

ETANA:  Yep. 

MS TARRAGO:  And you are a mother of two adult children who you describe as having taught you the true meaning of unconditional love. 

ETANA:  Yes. 

MS TARRAGO:  And you live with complex PTSD. 

ETANA:  Yes. 

MS TARRAGO:  And you are also a business owner. 

ETANA:  Yes, I'm starting my business. 

MS TARRAGO:  Okay.  And I will come to that a little later.  Now, you share in your statement some experiences of violence, particularly as it related to your family and your former long term partner. And in your statement, you share experiences as a child witnessing verbal and physical violence between your parents. What was it like growing up?

ETANA:  It was scary. It was always volatile. I didn't know when violence was going to erupt and, like I said in   I think I said in my statement, I had my first   what I didn't understand was a panic attack at the time. I think I was about 6 when I felt like I couldn't breathe after witnessing violence in the home. I didn't understand at the time what was going on; I just always felt like I was on guard for when another violent outbreak was going to occur and, yeah, I just   that was the norm for me. And I just didn't understand any other way of sort of living but through violence on a   pretty much a daily basis. 

MS TARRAGO:  And your mum also lives with a mental illness?

ETANA:  Yes. She's been diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar. 

MS TARRAGO:  Sorry, and she's been unwell for the majority of your life. 

ETANA:  Yeah. Yep. But she didn't get diagnosed until later on in life after I sort of pushed her to get diagnosed. 

MS TARRAGO:  And how did the violence that you had experienced as a child   how did that impact on your relationships as an adult?

ETANA:  For a long period, I didn't   I would react, which I now know as fight or flight. I used to fight back or be on guard all the time throughout my whole lifetime. I was always expecting violence to happen, and if anyone was violent towards me, I would react in a violent manner back because I didn't understand how to deal with certain situations.  It's only now, being my age, that I'm starting to learn and try   and try and start the healing process and learn how to react to people if they're violent or if they're rude, or whatever, towards me.  But, yeah, I had no understanding.  I was always watching my back. Even at a shopping centre.  I didn't   I didn't realise I was doing it until people would point it out to me, that I'm always looking around. Yeah. It affected me huge. 

MS TARRAGO:  And your mum's family is also part of the Stolen Generation, and you talk about it in your statement about the effect of intergenerational trauma that she suffered and that of your grandparents and that it is carried, that trauma, in the DNA. Could you please explain about how, you know, intergenerational trauma and those who were part of the Stolen Generation, how does that impact First Nations people with disability and the impact of that violence?

ETANA:  Well, when I first   at first, I never thought that my mental health was caused by intergenerational trauma, until a counsellor once said to me   asked me if I was of a Stolen Generation, my grandparents being Stolen Generation. And I said, "Yeah. " I said, "But that affected my grandparents, not me. " And then she explained how it does affect   how it does affect me, and it made sense. 

Then I went to a workshop with Dr Tracy Westerman, and she explained that it gets passed down in your DNA 30 per cent and for seven generations. I feel that that's what's   now I understand that's what's made me who I am today.  So I was diagnosed with complex PTSD, anxiety and depression.  And it affects me in my everyday living.  It's   my whole life has been a roller coaster of anxiety and depression. And when I was   like I said, when I was young, I was still quite   became quite violent myself because I couldn't understand or cope with what I was dealing with at the time. 

I did move into a relationship with the father of my children who was also part of the stolen Generation, and so with the both of us, we both ended up violent towards each other. Because, you know, he was violent to me and so I would react. Because I didn't know how else to react but defend myself. 

MS TARRAGO:  And if we could now just talk about that relationship   and we will just refer to him as your ex or your former partner   you were together almost 20 years. 

ETANA:  Yep. 

MS TARRAGO:  And were a victim of terrible domestic violence throughout most of your relationship with him. He had been in and out of jail and at times had been addicted to ice. 

ETANA:  Yeah. 

MS TARRAGO:  And you talk about one occasion in particular when your son was 1 year old, when your ex had attacked you whilst he was holding a knife and had stabbed you in the leg and arm. 

ETANA:  Yeah. 

MS TARRAGO:  You also talk about him having choked you and the fear that you would die, but that you are a fighter   and you've just spoken about that response   and that you would fight back when he was violent towards you. You speak of really wanting to leave that relationship and that it wasn't until he had found another partner that he finally let you leave. During that time, there were times when police were called. Did you find police helpful and understanding at the time?

ETANA:  I think they were   in the end, they were just sick of being called out and they would say to me, "Oh, when are you going to leave him?How long is this going to continue for?"  They would say things like that every now and then. Sometimes they would just rock up and take him and didn't say anything. But it   I found it really hard to leave him because I never had a father myself and I didn't   I thought I was doing the right thing at the time by my kids' father being around. 

But   until a counsellor had said to me that it's actually better for the children to not be in that sort of environment where witnessing that abuse, so then I decided to send my kids to boarding school so I can then   you know, try and start the breaking up process with him, because we all know, like, when you're trying to break up with someone, it's probably the most violent time through that period. So I needed to deal with that myself rather than   I didn't know what was going to   my kids were going to witness. 

So I put them into boarding school until I could   well, basically until they finished year 12 anyway, but also so that they didn't have to witness anything violent that was happening. I didn't want to keep passing that violence down into the next generation. 

MS TARRAGO:  And in your statement you talk about trying to break that cycle. Is that one of the occasions that you're talking about or are there other examples of breaking that cycle for future generations?

ETANA:  Yeah, so, basically, I   I didn't want my children   and I still am like that. I'm very protective of my children even though they are adults. I don't want my children to witness anything that may affect them in the future because   and it's always a big concern with me, people say to me, "Why don't you talk to your children about what you're going through" with my mental health, but I choose not to because I don't want them to have any impact on what I'm going through because I don't want them to feel the way I feel. 

So, yeah, I just   I didn't want to pass any of that on. I wanted to break the cycle.  Because my mum couldn't do it, so I wanted   I needed to do it for my children because I love my children so much. I didn't have the love of my mother or father. I don't understand why. I mean, I do understand why, but it's something I miss, not having that love of my mother and father. Because I see other women around my age still being close to their mothers, but I don't have that with my mother. She has no interest in me.

I don't want to do that with my kids. I'm very close with my kids. I love my kids unconditionally, and I think they know that because I tell them daily. I just want to, yeah, change that. Change that cycle of feeling unloved and having to think that   and normalising violence. 

MS TARRAGO:  So really talking through that healing process that you talked about before, not only for yourself but trying to heal those generations through your children as well. 

ETANA:  Yep. And like Tracy Westerman   I was just going to say, like Dr Tracy Westerman says, you know, it lasts for seven generation, and if the cycle is not broken within that seven generations, then it still continues, and that's another seven generations of trauma being passed down. So I'm hoping with my children's generation that they will be better parents for their kids and so on. 

MS TARRAGO:  And how does shame impact on the ability for First Nations women in particular to speak up about their experiences of violence?

ETANA:  I think, especially me growing up, I would never talk about it. Especially because   well, because of what the community might think of you, the stigma around it. Your family members or your partner and his family being unhappy and upset with what you've said or angry with what you're accusing them of. You know what I mean?Like, so I don't     you don't tend to go and look for services. I tried, but I didn't stick with it.  Tried with counselling a couple of times. I didn't stick with it. 

The police, I never really   it wasn't mainly me that rang the police. It was mainly the neighbours, and then I'd have to deal with it because, obviously, they would hear the abuse going on in the house. So   but I didn't want to   I didn't want to make a deal out of it because of the impact of how people would think of me.  And always going back and forth to him as well, like I kept going back to him over the 20 years. 

MS TARRAGO:  But you were finally able to leave that relationship?

ETANA:  Yep. Yeah, yeah. It took a long time, but I finally realised it was doing my children more damage and that's when I realised I've got to leave. 

MS TARRAGO:  Etana, you've been working on building your business, and there has been a focus on suicide post and prevention for First Nations people, in particular youth. Can you tell the Commissioners about your work or intended work?

ETANA:  Yeah, so I   I've got a passion for suicide, mainly because my first boyfriend when I was 17 suicided, and then throughout my lifetime I had other family and friends that had suicided, and then the last one was in 2017 when my nephew suicided. That's when I decided to do voluntary work for suicide post and prevention. And then from that, I decided to start my own business around delivering workshops for Indigenous people around suicide post and prevention, and mental health. 

And I'm looking at   I'm halfway developing programs for children under the age of 18 around mental health, but breaking   breaking it down   breaking the workshops down into things such as mental health, suicide, grief and loss, drugs and alcohol, lack of education, unemployment, broken families, crime, racism, respecting our Elders and our Country   our culture. Bullying and lateral violence and starting the healing generation. 

I want to focus on the main issues that our young kids are going through, because, especially up north, there's no understanding   there's no understanding of the bigger picture on why our children are behaving the way they are behaving. And I want to be able to work with these kids to try and give them the understanding on why they're doing what they're doing, but it also starts the healing process as well. So we're not always   you know, playing the victim; we're going to try and move forward, and the reasons why education and employment, things like that, are important in our lives. 

So, yeah that's   and I want to do it in a way where our First Nations people, if they don't want to do it in an office setting or indoors, well, we can   I've got marquees where we can go out, do it down the   down the beach or in a park or wherever they are. Where they feel comfortable. You know, outdoor, sitting around on bean bags and just discussing   like a yarning circle but doing   you know, where they're involved and   but talking about these issues. 

MS TARRAGO:  So, really, culturally led healing practices that can support the youth. 

ETANA:  Yeah, the youth, and I've got some for women as well with domestic violence and things like that. Again, same sort of topics but would be more around how they would deal with their children in crime and stuff like that. If that makes sense. But also, yeah, mental health, suicide again, and all the   all the issues that impact women as well in our community. For us to do a man   a men's one, they   I think another man would have to do that with the men's group, but for me, I can do women and children. 

MS TARRAGO:  And what would you like to see for First Nations women who've gone through experiences like you've shared?

ETANA:  I think a part of doing things like this is a bit of a healing process as well and to be   to come out and speak about what you've gone through and know that, you know, there is support out there. I think there should be more support. Like, you have to really go looking for the support and constantly   this is just my   what my own   what I've had to deal with, is for me to get support, it's really hard. 

And even to attend a hospital up here, you just   especially with your mental health, you just are still sitting in the waiting area where you feel uncomfortable, especially if you're having a panic attack or something like that. And they keep you out there for hours.  And then when you   they take you in, it's just not   none of it is culturally appropriate or   or just safe for anybody with mental health, to be honest. 

And then just to get in to see a psychiatrist, that can take months and when you're   when you need help now, it means you need help now, not in three months' time or whatever. And that's the hard thing about   I don't know what services are like down south, but up north, that's   that's the difficult thing where there is no real   real help. But   there is, but you've got to keep pushing and pushing and pushing and waiting and waiting and waiting before you can get in and see somebody. 

MS TARRAGO:  And if you have a message for the Royal Commission and the Government, what would it be?

ETANA:  To provide more services and funding towards mental health, suicide and domestic violence and all the things that   all the issues that women and children are facing.  And to be more prompt with the services, so services that can be there, you know, within 24 hours to help somebody, in the ideal world. 

MS TARRAGO:  Thank you, Etana, for sharing your experience. If the discussions raise concerns for anyone who might have tuned in, please contact Blue Knot Counselling and Referral Services on 1800 421 468, Lifeline on 13 11 14, Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636. And for viewers who wish to seek support in relation to sexual violence and domestic and family violence, please contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732. And for First Nations viewers, you can also contact Aboriginal Medical Services for social and emotional wellbeing support. Thank you, Commissioners. 

COMMISSIONER MASON:  Thank you, Ms Tarrago. Etana, on behalf of all the Commissioners, I would like to thank you for appearing today and giving your evidence to the Royal Commission. Very much appreciated. I will now look to my fellow Commissioners to see if they have any questions. Dr  Galbally, do you have any questions?

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:  No, I have no questions, but I would like to thank you so much for your courage in coming forward. Thank you so much. 


ETANA:  Thank you. 

COMMISSIONER MASON:  And here in the Hobart hearing room, Commissioner Bennett, do you have any questions?

COMMISSIONER BENNETT:  No, I don't, but I would like to echo Commissioner Galbally's thanks and admiration for your courage. 

ETANA:  Thank you. 

COMMISSIONER MASON:  Thank you. Ms Eastman. 

MS EASTMAN:  Thank you, Commissioners. Can we tender into evidence Etana's statement, and can we mark the statement as Exhibit 17. 14. 1. 

COMMISSIONER MASON:  Yes, we can do that. We can receive it into evidence and mark it as 17. 14. 01. 


MS EASTMAN:  Thank you. And just to recap, there is no further statements that we need  to tender for Ms Dunn. So I don't need to tender any material for her. Can we ask to excuse Etana, and that completes her evidence today. 

COMMISSIONER MASON:  Thank you. Thank you, Etana. 

ETANA:  Thank you. 

COMMISSIONER MASON:  And, again, our appreciation for you giving evidence to the Royal Commission today. 

ETANA:  Thank you. 


MS EASTMAN:  Commissioners, if we take the opportunity for an adjournment now of 20 minutes and then we will come back, back to Brisbane, and Ms Fraser will be taking Ms Barlow's evidence. If we can adjourn now for 20 minutes. 

COMMISSIONER MASON:  Yes. And, Ms Eastman, we will come back just prior to 5 to 12. 

MS EASTMAN:  Thank you. 




COMMISSIONER MASON:  Thank you, Ms Fraser. 

COMMISSIONER BENNETT:  You are on mute. 

COMMISSIONER MASON:  We can't hear you at your end. Yes. Thank you, Ms Fraser. 

MS FRASER:  Thank you, Commissioner. I would like to start with a content warning, if I could. This hearing will include evidence that may be distressing to some people. It will include accounts of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability, in particular women and girls with disability. If the evidence that you're about to hear raises concerns for you, please contact Blue Knot Counselling and Referral Service on 1800 421 468, Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636. For viewers who wish to seek support in relation to sexual violence and domestic and family violence, please contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732. 

Commissioners, I am joined this morning by Ms Donna Barlow. 



COMMISSIONER MASON:  Before you progress, I'm sorry, Ms Fraser, just also before we start, I wanted to introduce the Commissioners, if that's okay. 

MS FRASER:  Thank you, Commissioner. 

COMMISSIONER MASON:  Thank you. In Melbourne, we have Dr  Rhonda Galbally. And 
with me in the Hobart hearing room, we have Commissioner Bennett PMC is with me. And I also wanted to provide just a reassurance if you would like a break at any time, Ms Barlow, please, we are very flexible and can do that. So please indicate that yourself or also, Ms Fraser, if there's a break needed at any time. Thank you. 

MS FRASER:  Thank you, Commissioner. Commissioners, I am joined today by Ms Barlow. I will refer to Ms Barlow by her preferred name, Ms B. Ms B is joined in the Brisbane hearing room today by her support people, Carol and Ellie and Billy. Both Ms B and Carol have already received the oath and that has been given to them. Ms B is also joined today by an assistance dog Gypsy who is sitting with Ms B and providing her with some comfort. Thank you, Commissioner, for noting that if Ms B requires a break   we can see Gypsy there   if Ms B requires a break at any time, she will let us know and we will let the Commissioners know. Thank you very much. 

Ms B, I would like you to have a bit of a chat with me now. Let's imagine that what we are going to do is just a conversation as between you and me. We have had some good chats over the last few weeks, and we are going to have another one of those chats now. So, Ms B, I was hoping that you could start by telling me a little bit about yourself.  Ms B, I understand from what I know of you that you grew up in New South Wales and now you live in Queensland. During the time that you grew up, is it correct that you lived in   and the word that you have used when you talked to me is that you lived in institutions. Is that correct?

COMMISSIONER MASON:  Ms Fraser, I think we can take   I think we can take an adjournment. 

MS B:  No, I just   

MS FRASER:  Sorry, Commissioner, Ms B is indicating that she would like to continue. 

COMMISSIONER MASON:  Okay. Thank you. 

MS FRASER:  Thank you. 

MS B:  The answer is yes. 

MS FRASER:  And, Ms B, you first came to live in an institution when you were about 2 years old. 

MS B:  Yes. 

MS FRASER:  Yes. And you lived in those places until you were about 16 at first;  that's correct?

MS B:  Yes. 

MS FRASER:  And do you feel comfortable, Ms B, telling me what happened then?

MS FRASER: They had   to try to put you back with your person who you belong to, like parents, aunties, whoever. But that didn't work for me because my mother locked me out and I was living on park benches in Redfern. A situation occurred in Redfern, and I didn't really have anywhere to go so I contacted the people back where I was and   even though that wasn't very safe either   not that I knew that   and I went back there. 

MS FRASER:  And you stayed living back in that place, didn't you, until you were 18?

MS B:  Yes. 

MS FRASER:  And then when you were 18, you couldn't remain living there any more, could you?

MS B:  No. 

MS FRASER:  And so can you tell me a little bit about where you went after that time?

MS B:  Back to my mother. 

MS FRASER:  And how did that go?

MS B:  Well, if you like sleeping on park benches or out in the street, it was fine. But I sort of met a man, sort of happened to be watching. Was like a guardian angel. And he kept saying to me, "I know what's happening" but I didn't really want to tell people what was happening because I was worried that I was going to get locked back up again and put back in places where things were happening. Anyway, he finally told me that he lived with his mother, and they took me in. And I stayed with his mother and him until we then moved to Boggabilla. 

MS FRASER:  And so that man, the first that you met at that time, would you describe him as a nice man?

MS B:  He was a saint. 

MS FRASER:  And what happened after you went to live with him and his mum?

MS B:  Nothing really except my stupid mother would come and annoy people and knock on doors and make out that she pretended she missed me, loved me, whatever. But after we moved to Boggabilla, that was different. Because then I got to see farms and sheep, horses, cattle, shearing. Even learning about   what do they call it   what did I say   sweetbread. Don't ever try it. It's okay, it's cows   hoosamaboggles. It sounded tasty at first but    

MS FRASER:  Right. 

MS B:  Yeah. And that was a different life. 

MS FRASER:  And you started to be exposed to things in the wider world?

MS B:  Yes. 

MS FRASER:  Yes. And so at what point did you stop living with that man and his mother?

MS B:  Probably before I turned 21. 

MS FRASER:  And where did you go after you lived with them?

MS B:  I came sort of back to Brisbane. I'd moved back   there was a lot of moving and changing. I finally then got farming jobs but you had to be couples even though you weren't couples to get a job. And one of my jobs for all of the farming was helping this builder build an extension. We become close, but not intimate close. We   you know, just friends. 


MS B:  Anyway, he sort of listened to my story, seemed to understand. He started talking about how would I like staying there and living with him and his wife and his family. I thought, oh, somebody wants me. That's lovely. It might be a bit of a different world.  So 
we went   I went there, which was Redcliffe. 

MS FRASER:  So you went and lived with him and his family. 

MS B:  Yeah, well, yeah, not just him, no. 

MS FRASER:  Yes. And at first that was   that was good because it felt like you were part of a family?

MS B:  Yeah. 

MS FRASER:  Was that the first time you had sort of had that feeling?

MS B:  Yep. 

MS FRASER:  And, Ms B, do you feel comfortable telling me a little bit about what happened when you lived with that family?

MS B:  Sorry. I didn't mean to swear. The wife was   she was okay sort of at first.  She demanded I call her mum.  We had titles.  He was different.  He was always away.  I think she wore the pants. It was what she said goes, and he just, I think, followed suit, I think. I'm not really quite sure. But when he would go away, things started to get weird, strange. She was    

MS FRASER:  She would make you do things to her, wouldn't she?

MS B:  Yes. 

MS FRASER:  And they weren't good things. 

MS B:  No. 

MS FRASER:  They were sexual things. 

MS B:  Yes. 

MS FRASER:  And then when her   

MS B:  I'm going to be sick. Sorry. 

MS FRASER:  Ms B, I want to you take your time and if you need a break, you let me know. 

MS B:  Yeah, I know. 

MS FRASER:  We can also move on to talk about something completely different. You let me know when you're ready. Would you like me to carry on?Okay. So, Ms B, you left living with those people after a while and you went back to live with the nice man, didn't you?

MS B:  Yes. 

MS FRASER:  The nice man who had been the first   I think you described him earlier as the guardian angel. 

MS B:  Yes. 

MS FRASER:  And you lived with him for a little while before you then met another man;  is that correct?

MS B:  Yes. 

MS FRASER:  And you met that man when somebody introduced you to him. They said to you that you needed   that he needed help with some things. 

MS B:  Yes. 

MS FRASER:  And you were in a relationship with that man for    

MS B:  Well, we didn't start a relationship at first. It was just cleaning, because by then I had a child, and I don't know whether you want me to explain about that because that will be too complicated. Unless somebody else wants to explain about that.  But there was already a child. And    

MS FRASER:  That was the child that you had when you were living with the other couple?

MS B:  Yes. 


MS B:  And so I was a single mum. I needed extra money so when somebody said about cleaning the unit, I thought, okay, it's a bit of extra cash, you know, cash in hand. So I took that, and he started talking about discos and I'm thinking, "Oh, disco. Bright lights. Music. " Things that I really wanted to do. I suppose we became a little bit more pally.  At first, he was sort of okay. He'd become very   I think the word's domineering. 

MS FRASER:  Domineering. 

MS B:  He   we sort of got a bit closer. He was suggesting about marriage but then he   in between suggesting about the marriage, he was like a Hekyll and a Jyde. More so the Jyde, or whichever the nicer one was, and he just was black one minute, white the next. You never could tell what he was doing. So I tried to not get into a relationship, but he became very forceful. I became pregnant again from situations from him. I then thought I don't want, really, another child by myself, so I thought, okay, get married. But I didn't want to really   want to do that either but I didn't really know what to do. 

MS FRASER:  You've said to me that when you were growing up, there was always a bit of a dream. 

MS B:  Yeah. 

MS FRASER:  About having    

MS B:  I definitely had dreams but they never came true. So I'm still waiting and I'm turning 61 this year. So I haven't got them yet. 

MS FRASER:  And that idea of the white dress, that was something that you   that made you think that maybe getting married was a    

MS B:  Yeah, well, I try not to talk about white dresses these days, because back in the places I stayed   I know that's going off track, but you thought of one way you could get to wear a white dress was to get confirmed. And you could get your white dress, you could get your veil, you could walk down the aisle. You don't need a man beside you, but that's okay. But the lessons to be confirmed weren't lessons. They were   you weren't learning about Bibles. 


MS B:  You definitely weren't learning about Bibles. Anyway. That's all I'm saying about that matter. Sorry. 

MS FRASER:  That's okay. 

MS B:  I don't like white dresses no more. 

MS FRASER:  That's fine. And, Ms B, the man that you were married to, the couple that we talked about before, were they still in your    

MS B:  Yes. 

MS FRASER:     life as well at that time?

MS B:  Yes, they were. 

MS FRASER:  And what sort of role were they playing or what impact were they having on you at that time?

MS B:  She was very controlling with the older child. 

MS FRASER:  With your older child?

MS B:  Yes. 


MS B:  That might have to be explained. She seemed to take control and keep saying it was their child. But not in front of anyone. It was her daughter, not mine. So if it cried, I really never got to, like, nurse it, hold it, feed it, bath it unless she was there. They seemed to side with my husband. It didn't matter what I said to them, whether I had cold, hot temperatures, mentioned in conversations to get children out of danger, because by then I had sort of more children, so we've skipped a little bit of scenarios. 

So I had two children to a marriage which weren't condoned either. So you got four children, and they ended up going under the same system that I did, and they didn't really believe in anything I said. They believed sort of her word over my word and his word over my word. 

MS FRASER:  So when your husband would be violent towards you, the couple would support him. 

MS B:  Yeah, mainly her. 

MS FRASER:  Mainly her. 

MS B:  Well, like I said, I really didn't talk to the man much. He was a very   you know, not well dressed, but, you know, I mean, he was always decently dressed. You know   it was a more humble person to me, was like, you know, humble, you know, like he liked everything right. He was a builder. You know, the edging of the corner, there's a gap there. He would carry on about a gap. You know. He'd renovate things and put them back in the right order because he was straight along the lines, like I say. 

You could hear them talking at night, and she'd be yelling and he'd be, "Yes, dear. No, dear (indistinct) three bags full, dear. " So I don't really think   he just went along with her because, I think, of their two children and whatever. I don't really know. I'm probably never going to know because they're not alive no more to get that answer. 

MS FRASER:  But you never   you didn't feel that you had the support of those people when you would tell them about the things that your husband was doing to you. 

MS B:  Not really, no. 

MS FRASER:  And, Ms B, can you tell me how would it have helped you along the way if somebody had actually believed you when you had made reports about the different things that you were experiencing?

MS B:  Well, one people did, but they were asking me to have a DNA   was when my older daughter was getting older and she was in the system, and I'd already sort of tried to explain about a man   we skipped that man because   it's okay. We agreed to get together, and that's how I thought my daughter was planned. But the situation with the couple happened before that situation. 


MS B:  Anyway, so when they were asking me about a DNA and my child's 10 or whatever age she was by then, you know, how are you going to explain to her, "Look, dear, oh, when mum was 24 blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, but I think it's blah, blah, blah, blah, blah" and I'm sorry about the blah, blahs. But   and then she already hated me because the people that molest me, her   theirs. 

MS FRASER:  That couple. 

MS B:  Yeah. So what was I going to do, go and say, yay?I will have a DNA to move my story of what happened with the couple?And say, yay?He was or that one was, to prove something right. And to make a kid hate me even more than what she hates me. 

MS FRASER:  And when your husband was    

MS B:  That was about the only time. 

MS FRASER:     being violent towards, you didn't feel like people were listening to you. 

MS B:  No, because you had words we used. They need   I would ring them up and say, "The weather's hot. "  And that meant come in the car    

MS FRASER:  Sorry, just to stop you there. Do you mean you had code words with them?

MS B:  Yeah. 

MS FRASER:  Yes, like safety words. 

MS B:  Yeah, so it'd be like they knew when I rang them and said "hot", they didn't ask a question, they just came, got the kids. I'd have their bags already packed, food, whatever, money and go, "Right, get them out of here. "  By the next day, my husband was at their house. 

MS FRASER:  At their invite?

MS B:  Yeah. 

MS FRASER:  So they would invite him over. 

MS B:  Yeah. 


MS B:  It was very catch 52 world. I don't know how many worlds, but you just were fighting with them and fighting with the other people and then fighting with whoever the people were that you had to deal with that took the kids in the first place, and then you're fighting with lawyers, and then you're fighting with other people and   yeah, just   it was going around in circles and getting nowhere. You didn't have a leg to stand on. 

MS FRASER:  And so something that I'm hearing from you is that throughout all of this, there was just never really that   that person who you felt could provide you with good support?

MS B:  Not really. 

MS FRASER:  The couple who you had hoped would provide you with support, they didn't really do that. 

MS B:  No. 

MS FRASER:  They certainly didn't do that. And then there was nobody else at that time. You've since engaged   and I can see from the people in the room here now that you've got some really good support around you. Can you tell me a little bit about what a difference it makes to you to have that kind of support around you?

MS B:  Sorry, the dog nearly fell off my lap. 

MS FRASER:  That's okay.  That's an important support too.   We don't want the dog falling off your lap. Can you tell me a little bit about what a difference it makes to you to have these wonderful support people with you here today?

MS B:  Better than what I ever felt when I was younger.  Just walking into   this is sort of a bit better when I was younger because you were in a bigger room but   anyway, that goes off track. Yeah, you just didn't have anyone that seemed to, you know, go with you to a court or a hearing or even say, "Oh nice job. Well done" whatever it is that they say these days. And then when they say it, I really don't get it, that now people are saying, you know, "Well done" because I don't really take that as   I don't know   I can't take, I suppose, praise or whatever it is because   yeah. I don't know, because it doesn't make sense now, that I'm getting   going   "You're a good girl. " 

MS FRASER:  Because it feels new to you. 

MS B:  Yeah, and everybody carrying   because my friend here, Carol, she always goes, "When they say something, just say thank you. " And I haven't even got to   thank you. It takes me ages just to say thank you to somebody. 

MS FRASER:  Well, can I tell you that there's a lot of reasons why you should be very, very proud of yourself for coming here today, and there's a number of people who are going to in a moment say very, very genuine and sincere thank yous to you because we are extremely grateful for your time and efforts in coming to the Royal Commission today. Just before we finish up. 

MS B:  Oh, are we finished?Sorry. 

MS FRASER:  Is there anything further, Ms B, that you would like to share with the Royal Commission in terms of anything you would like to say or recommendations. 

MS B:  The last thing that I wrote. That recommendation. Sorry. Hang on. Where is it?

MS FRASER: Commissioner, Ms B is just referring to a couple of little notes she's got here. 

MS B:  It's not that one. Sorry. 

MS FRASER:  You're okay. You take your time. 

MS B:  I want you to stop making Royal Commissions, stop making recommendations and actually do it, laws in place, no more empty promises. That's all I want to say. 

MS FRASER:  So you would like to see change. 

MS B:  Yep. 

MS FRASER:  Real change?

MS B:  Yes. And not just say, "Yeah, we are going to put section and we're going to have"   what do you call them   "recommendations. " And then, okay, we get told these 10 recommendations, but you never actually see them in place. Like, if you give me the copy of what gets told after this, and say, "This is what we've concluded", that's nice, but then  it's like a new    

MS FRASER:  You would like to work through them and tick them off where you can seen them happen. 

MS B:  It's like a new train.  We're going to get a new train.  What colour is it going to be, red, green, pink. Are you going to get to see inside it. You know?Okay. 

MS FRASER:  Yes. I understand. Well, Ms B, thank you so much for your time today and for the extraordinary efforts that you have made to come here today. We are genuinely appreciative for all of your time, including the time that you have given to the Commission before today. I would like to hand you over now to the Commissioners. They might have a couple of questions or just a couple of little things to say to you. Thank you, Commissioners. 

MS B:  Sorry. It's okay. 

MS FRASER:  Did you want a minute?

MS B:  That's okay. 

MS FRASER:  Okay. 

COMMISSIONER MASON:  Thank you, Ms Fraser. Ms B, I just   on behalf of all the Commissioners, I want to sincerely thank you for your courage in coming today and appearing and giving evidence and also for the work that you have done to prepare your statement for today.  And we are so grateful that you have come today.  So thank you.  And I don't believe that my fellow Commissioners have any questions, so I will hand over to Ms Eastman now. 


MS EASTMAN:  Thank you, Commissioners. I thank Ms B for her evidence. We now turn to some pre-recorded evidence. Last year when we were preparing for the hearing, I had the opportunity to meet with Clarisse, and Clarisse came to the Royal Commission wanting to share the story about her daughter, who we have given the name Romi to. Romi is a woman who lives with intellectual disability, epilepsy and developmental delays. 

Clarisse describes Romi as a beautiful soul. Romi is a very creative person and a talented artist. And we had a discussion about how could we ensure that Romi's voice was also part of this hearing, and so Romi prepared some craft for us and, Commissioners, you have with you in the hearing room here in Hobart some artwork prepared by Romi, and we have included in the material to be tendered as part of Clarisse's evidence some photographs of some of the craft that Romi did. 

That craft work from Romi is her speaking to you, Commissioners, about her feelings and the fact that she can too be part of this hearing. In the pre record   which I will play shortly; it will take just over 10 minutes   Clarisse talks about Romi and her experiences of sexual violence. And Clarisse will talk about how she and Romi have really worked hard, not necessarily to overcome, but to learn to live alongside the trauma of these experiences. 

The whole of the pre record takes about an hour, and we will tender into evidence the whole of the recording.  We will just play the shorter part of the recording.  And what we will focus on in the recording is in relation to experience of sexual violence that Romi had, which were perpetrated by a bus driver who was part of her day to day routine in being able to take Romi from her home to her day options. The second incident involved violence and abuse by a male carer who also worked with Romi in her day to day options. 

Commissioners, when we have talked in this hearing about understanding family and domestic violence, we take an approach that domestic settings are not just confined to what occurs within the home, and Romi's experience illustrates perhaps a broadening of an approach in terms of understanding the context of domestic settings and people with whom you repose your trust and confidence. 

In the longer statement, which we will tender, is Clarisse asks, "Who do you trust?"  In circumstances where violence has arisen in so many places in Romi's life, Clarisse wants to share her insights and give you a sense of Romi's world. So we will play that extract now. Thank you, Commissioners. 


MS EASTMAN:  Are you ready to talk about what happened at the day program?

CLARISSE:  Okay. From high school   she then went to a high school, special school, where she was   it was just a small incident. It's not small to me, but she was showered by the principal   school principal one day.  They didn't contact me.  They didn't explain why.  So she came home quite distressed. I rang the school and the principal said, "Well she had body odour. "  And that was the reason she showered her. Once again  (indistinct) didn't do anything about it. 

So, from there, I was quite distressed about that, because there was no permission. She didn't have body odour. I take a lot of pride in keeping her presentable, I suppose. From there, she went to a day options group locally, and she'd been there for quite a while and the bus driver that used to bring her home, she was always last on the run even though we were a short while away. And she came home one night and told   she's always told me when these incidents have happened. So she came home and told me that he had done several things to her and made her do several things to him. 

MS EASTMAN:  Were those thing involving any sexual touching?

CLARISSE:  Yes, genitals, yes. So I rang   it was 7. 30 at night when she told me. We were just   she didn't tell me straightaway. She told me a couple of hours after she got home. I rang the rape centre in Adelaide, trying to   I didn't   I didn't really know what to do. I rang my local GP, I rang the rape centre, and we had an appointment down there. The police were involved when I   because it's all quite a while ago, I can't remember who reported it, whether I did or whether the day options group did. 

It was reported to the police, and the detectives charged him and proceeded to go on   and, I must say, I've had quite a different experience this time compared to the first time. We were referred to the Sexual Assault Unit [redacted] supported well, and a lot of compassion and empathy was shown. So that first incident, whilst it didn't get to court because there was only her word against his    

MS EASTMAN:  What was it about the way which the police dealt with that situation that you thought worked well or were supportive?

CLARISSE:  [Redacted] okay. The police came to our house and supported [redacted] in her own environment. They made a really big effort to establish a rapport with her. Like, she loves computers so she   he brought a computer game and talked to her about the game and just established that rapport before she had to do the next step of an interview. He was very understanding and very compassionate about the whole thing and did his utmost to get it further than it got. It took us a good 10 years to get over that and to start to trust again. So we got through that and we were going along okay and then we went   we went to the new place. 

MS EASTMAN:  And what happened there?

CLARISSE:  What happened there. Well, a lot of things happened there that were disappointing. But I had meetings with them every time and discussed it and put things forward. For about four or five years [redacted] behaviour had changed. She became extremely aggressive and punching, biting, hitting me, pushing me to the floor, pulling me by my hair to the ground. It was only ever directed at me. 

MS EASTMAN:  Are you able to tell the Royal Commission what happened to [redacted] and what the carer did to her?

CLARISSE:  She came home this day like a wounded lion. Screaming. She got off the bus and was screaming more worse than I had ever seen her. And I could not console her. I actually rang her father, who doesn't have a lot to do with us, but I had to get some help because I couldn't control her   control her. And the first question he asked her was, "Has somebody touched you?"  And   which is interesting because I didn't ask her that question. And I guess I just thought, it can't happen again, I've got a directive in place with this company. Anyway. So she was very difficult   

MS EASTMAN:  What did she tell   what did she tell her father and you?

CLARISSE:  That he   that [redacted] I'm not giving a surname, it's all right. This person had   she told me   he'd touched her vagina and her bottom, and then she just became mute. She just wouldn't talk at all. When she first came home, I had rung the day options group again and said, "She's absolutely beside herself. What's going on?" And the team leader told me once again, "Oh, look, she's just bored. She just wants to leave and do something else. "

The next day I rang   or they rang me, I think, one of the managers from the group, and she explained what had happened the day before and wanted me to go into the office to speak to the CEO. Of course [redacted] beside herself lying on the floor. So distressed that I've ever seen. And she   I said, "I can't go in because I can't leave [redacted]. I can't   could you please come to the house?"  And they said, no, they wouldn't come to the house. So I never had a meeting with the CEO. 

[Redacted] went for her interview. And then the next   he went in for his interview. He admitted to the police he'd been doing it for six years. The police rang me the next day and said, "He's been doing it for six years. " [Redacted] interview was extremely distressing. I took the disability support case manager with me to that interview and her father, and the police would not let her have any support in that interview at all. That's why I took the case manager, because I knew I couldn't support her in that, but the case manager was impartial and could have. The police were adamant and quite intimidating because she begged them and said, "look I've done this before, I've been in interviews before, had long discussions about it" and they no, she can't go in there. So they took [redacted] at the back. I wish I was strong enough to say no, but I felt because    

MS EASTMAN:  Was there any offer of any legal assistance, legal aid or community legal centre or your own lawyer?Was that ever an option raised with you?

CLARISSE:  When I asked them about getting my own lawyer   because I was unhappy with the way the whole thing was run   they said, "this is not your case, this is a State versus this person and you don't need a   you don't need a lawyer. It's not your case. " 

MS EASTMAN:  So [redacted] had to participate in an interview with the police by herself, is that right?

CLARISSE:  Yes, that's right. 

MS EASTMAN:  What was the impact of [redacted] participating that interview and what supports was she provided after the interview?

CLARISSE:  I think she actually   I think she actually felt better that she had told somebody and told the police because I was   I said to her to trust the police. So I think in some ways she felt a bit better once she had told somebody and told the police and no supports were offered, no. All the bad things we've gone through because of other people, because we trusted other people. She just is a blessing to me. You know, I used to come home from work in the morning and the first thing she would say was, "good morning beautiful soul. " That's the way she greets me. "Good morning beautiful soul. " You know, to have a child   your own child say that to you means more than any   anything. 

MS EASTMAN:  … and to ask you to accept that and mark that as Exhibit 17. 16. 1. I might do them a lot if that's okay, Commissioner Mason. 


MS EASTMAN:  Then there is also the transcript of the video recording of Clarisse, and if that can be accepted and marked Exhibit 17.16.2.  There is the image of Romi and her art.  That will be Exhibit 17.16.3.  The image of Romi's beaded love heart, that will be Exhibit 17.16.4.  And the image of Romi's beaded frame, that will be Exhibit 17.16.5.  So those are the matters that   sorry, documents and items that we want to tender into evidence.

COMMISSIONER MASON:  Yes.  We will see if receive those items into evidence and mark them as you've just instructed.  The video of Clarisse, 17.16.1.  The transcript of Clarisse, 17.16.2.  Image of Romi, 17.16.3.  The image of Romi's beaded love heart 17.16.4.  And also the image of the beaded frame, which will be received into evidence 17.16.5.






MS EASTMAN:  Thank you Commissioner Mason. Commissioners, that then concludes this part of the evidence today and if we can adjourn now for our lunch break and return at 2 pm. 

COMMISSIONER MASON:  Yes, we can do that. Thank you. 

MS EASTMAN:  Thank you Commissioners. 



COMMISSIONER MASON:  Thank you, Ms Eastman. 

MS EASTMAN:  Thank you, Commissioner. Our next witness is Esther Simbi. She's with us here in the Hobart hearing room. Before I introduce you to Esther, I will just ask Esther to take the oath. 



MS EASTMAN:  Ms Simbi, you are Esther Simbi?

MS SIMBI:  Yes. 

MS EASTMAN:  And the Royal Commission knows your address. And you're a disability advocate, aren't you?

MS SIMBI:  Yes. 

MS EASTMAN:  I want to start by asking you a little bit about how you came to Australia.  You were born in Kajo Keji.

MS SIMBI:  Kajo Keji. 

MS EASTMAN:  Kajo Keji in South Sudan. You don't actually know what year were you born. 


MS EASTMAN:  And your mother had a home birth in the village, and there is no birth certificate. 


MS EASTMAN:  When you were 4, you contracted poliomyelitis. And your family circumstances in Sudan were a little different, weren't they, because you experienced family violence. 

MS SIMBI:  Mmm. 

MS EASTMAN:  You saw what happened to your mother. And your mother decided to have a divorce. 

MS SIMBI:  Mmm. 

MS EASTMAN:  Was that unusual in South Sudan?

MS SIMBI:  Yes, so in my culture, divorce is a no no. And domestic violence still now is not properly defined as abuse, rather is considered as punishment for women's bad behaviour. And so what was happening to my mother when hot food was poured on her head, that was still considered as punishment for her bad behaviour. The bashing, the physical abuse, the choking, when she was picked up and then pinned against the wall, that was still considered as punishment for her bad behaviour. 

And because my parents were married in the church, in the Anglican Church, divorce was not allowed. But good on my mother, that was the first time I've heard of it as she divorced my dad. And, yeah, so I'm from a broken family and, yeah, that violence scared me. I remember   I was only little, but I remember on most nights when my father was coming back drunk and making loud noises closer to home and we had to take cover, like, everybody has to hide. 

And so I was afraid to go to sleep not knowing what was going to happen, whether I will wake up or things were going to get thrown over me, over my small body and all of that. And so it was   it was really hard and   but then that was still considered not violence or abuse, and even now, like I say, violence and abuse is still not properly defined in the South Sudanese culture, and in most CALD cultures, violence has no name. It's not considered as violence or abuse. 

MS EASTMAN:  I want to ask but that in a little more detail in a moment.  But coming back to your journey to Australia, for Sudan and South Sudan, when you were growing up, it was a time of civil war in the country. And around 1987, with your mother, you decided to leave South Sudan, to leave the civil war, and you crossed the border in Uganda. And you grew up in three different refugee camps in Uganda;  is that right?

MS SIMBI:  Yes. 

MS EASTMAN:  And you lived in these refugees camps for about 19 years. 

MS SIMBI:  Yep. 

MS EASTMAN:  You came to Australia in July 2005 as a refugee. 

MS SIMBI:  Yep. 

MS EASTMAN:  And did you settle in South Australia?

MS SIMBI:  Yes. 

MS EASTMAN:  And after you settled, you completed a Bachelor Degree in Social Work. 

MS SIMBI:  Yes. 

MS EASTMAN:  And, more recently, you have done a Master's Degree in Mediation and Conflict Resolution. 

MS SIMBI:  Yes. 

MS EASTMAN:  You are the single mother of two daughters. 

MS SIMBI:  Yeah. 

MS EASTMAN:  And in March 2019, you published your first book. It's called 'Beyond Calamity', and that book is your story. 

MS SIMBI:  Yep. 

MS EASTMAN:  About the journey coming to Australia, living with polio, growing up, surviving, being now a woman with disability. 

MS SIMBI:  Yep. Yes. 

MS EASTMAN:  And seeing life in Australia. 

MS SIMBI:  Yep. 

MS EASTMAN:  The matters we want to talk about today   and there's a lot of questions that we would like to ask you   but we have decided we are going to focus on relationships. 

MS SIMBI:  Yes. 

MS EASTMAN:  This hearing is about the Royal Commission understanding the experience of women and girls    

MS SIMBI:  Mmm. 

MS EASTMAN:     who see and experience violence and abuse in their family domestic relationships and also sexual violence. You're happy to talk about your personal experience of family violence and your relationship. And I wanted to ask you about that. But before we do that, can we start with cultural understandings.  And I think you wanted to start by talking about cultural misunderstandings about disability, but also about the treatment of women and violence in family settings. So can I ask you to start with those two topics, and then we will come to what you would like to share with the Royal Commission about your own relationship. 

MS SIMBI:  Sure. Thank you very much for giving me this opportunity. I'm sitting here today to share my story and I'm also sitting here today on behalf of the CALD communities, representing CALD communities. Those are women from non-English speaking backgrounds that have no voice and who are yet to find their voice. And I'm also sitting here today representing Purple Orange, as I work for Purple Orange.

And so the cultural misunderstanding is, in terms of disability, in many cultures, people understand disability as mental disability or, like, when you have a disability, you're considered as you have something wrong. That there's something wrong with you mentally. It's not considered as intellectual disability   even if you have physical disability, that is considered as you have something wrong and some languages, some of the languages around disability that are used in other cultures is like you are not normal. 

So that's the cultural misunderstanding. And because of those misunderstandings, there is an abuse that comes with that stigma, that comes with   with that. And people with disability are considered as nothing. Nobody pay attention to them. Like, when you have a disability   when I was young, I was told that nothing good will ever come out of me. And in other cultures, when people have children, when they plan to have children, they have this beautiful world that they planned ahead of them for their children, but when their children get diagnosed with a disability, all of that is thrown out the window. 

And now people start to wonder, like, "Why me" and families get rejected for having people with the disability. In the community, you get isolated and what people do in the community is they hide children away. You can go to a family, like, maybe five times. You will not even know that there is a child in that family with a disability. That's what some people do. And the treatment, especially for women with a disability, in other cultures, especially African cultures, like, sexual abuse is not considered as abuse. There are other types of abuse that are not considered as abuse. 

Like, culturally, what is abuse is not considered as abuse. So, in other cultures, they   the parents would organise men in the community to rape a woman with disability   a girl with disability to have children so that those children will look after them. Will look after the mother who has a disability. And so those are the misunderstandings of disability because this violence and abuse is not properly defined, and how people with a disability are treated is, like, considered normal. It's not considered as abuse. 

And for women in my culture and in other CALD cultures, women talk through men. They don't have a voice. And it's hard for a woman who is experiencing abuse to come out and report an abuse and maybe talk to the police or talk to their neighbour. Also, other things like women   some women depend on men for everything, any support, financial;  everything. And if you report an abuse, even if you recognise what abuse looks like and you are able to report that abuse, that comes with you losing that support. And you   you have nothing. 

And in my own culture, children belong to men, so if a woman is experiencing domestic violence, that woman will not be able to report that abuse because of the fear of losing her children.  Like, you go alone without your children and, yeah, that's   that's   and those things need to be defined. People in the CALD communities need proper education so that they can understand, they can be able to recognise what abuse looked like and when to report abuse and who to report it to for those women who speak through men, for those women who don't have a voice. Who can they contact for help. 

MS EASTMAN:  Okay. Can I turn now to your relationship. You found yourself in the wrong kind of relationship. The relationship at the start was one where your ex husband's family pushed him to you. They saw you as a driven and successful woman, and, while you're not wealthy, because of your level of education and the things that you were doing in the community, his family thought you might be a wealthy woman. 

MS SIMBI:  Mmm. 

MS EASTMAN:  What would you like to tell the Royal Commission about how that relationship started and then as much as you want to share about some of the experiences of financial exploitation in the relationship and also the emotional abuse?So I'm going to hand over to you, and you can tell the Royal Commissioners what you would like to share about your experiences. 

MS SIMBI:  Thank you. And, yeah, so I found myself in that relationship that is a wrong kind of relationship that I was in. He was my friend.  When I came to Australia,  I experienced a lot of rejection in my own community, and in my own family I experienced rejection. Three weeks after I arrive in Australia, I knew nobody. I knew   I didn't know where to catch the bus to go to the city, or what number bus to catch and where to stand, which side of the road to stand to go to the city and come back. 

And I found myself all alone in Adelaide, and so he was there for me, and he was the one that drove me around and took me around to show me where to buy food and where to buy things, and he was there.  We were friends. And then a few years later   so his family decided that we should get married and   so they pushed him, and one day he rang me and he said he wanted to talk to me about something important.  And so we make a time and we talked and he let me know that he was interested in me and he wanted me to be the mother of his children. 

And I said, "But we're already friends" and I had looked up to him as a brother. And   but I said I didn't want that relationship. And then his relatives turned their attention away from him to me, so they started visiting me and helping me and doing really nice   being nice to me. And so I decided, I've known this family for all these years and they are being nice to me, so I accepted the relationship. 

And then I realised that, a few months into the relationship, the decision making was taken away from me, and that comes down to where   to the cultural belief where they   people believe that when you have a disability, that you're not capable of making your own decisions, you're not capable of doing anything   like, they consider that you are not normal. And so that decision was taken away from me and decisions were made for me. 

And then I finally realised that that's not what I want, and I'm not like that. I have always liked being vocal from a young age about abuse and disability issues. And so I decided that I was going to make the decisions myself in that relationship, and then   and that was actually the beginning of the end of the relationship. And so I didn't leave. Now, when I talk about it and when people read my books   there's more details about that relationship in my second book. 

When people read about my book, others are angry and they say, "Why did you stay in that relationship?Why did you leave?Why did you keep making excuses for him?"  And my response is that when you are the one in that relationship, it's hard. I've already mentioned the other things before, like   before you leave   I had two children. Before you leave, you had to   you have to think about, if I leave now, am I going to have a roof over my head with my children?Where am I going to stay?How am I going to live financially?

Even though I was financially exploited, I was still thinking about that and I was thinking that maybe things will get better. And also I lost   we lost our middle child and then four months later I found out I was pregnant with my now 5-year-old. And so I was pregnant, and then I had a fall during pregnancy, broke my left ankle, and when she was born my ankle had not healed properly. My mother died two days before she was born, and then two weeks after she was born, he left. So I was still in the situation where I needed help.  I didn't know   I was still getting my head around why all these things were happening to me at that time. And so with the financial exploitation    

MS EASTMAN:  Did he   he didn't discuss finances with you and you didn't know when he was working, how much he was being paid or    


MS EASTMAN:     how many hours he was working. 


MS EASTMAN:  Did he hide the payslips from you?

MS SIMBI:  Mmm.  So he   I never saw his payslips anywhere in the house.  I didn't know how many hours he was working, how many days he was working.  He was never in the house.  Every single day of the week, he was never in the house.  Like, if he's in the house, it's mainly, like, two to three hours he's in the house.  And even in the night, like, he would come back late in the night, and then early in the morning, he's gone.  So I never really know how many days he was working until Centrelink cancelled my payments three times.

When Centrelink cancelled my payments for the first time, I rang them and I explained to them and they reinstated my payment. And then the second time, they said I had to go to   to Centrelink with him. So that was when I found out how many hours he was working, how many days he was working, and how much he was getting paid. And so I was the one buying everything in the house and that   he just used me in that way. 

Even though he was the one paying the rent, that was the extent to how he spent his money, and we didn't   we had separate accounts. We didn't have a joint account. Every time I ask him about why are we not having a joint account, I didn't get any response back from that. And there were always complaints from his family about finances. I don't know what he was telling his family. 

And he   he was embarrassed. I think he was ashamed of me. He never took me anywhere. He was always out there with other women, his ex-girlfriends and all of that. And he was going to his sister's house for some family meetings more than once a week, and I was never involved in those family meetings. I was not considered as part of the family to be able to attend those meetings. And   yeah. 

MS EASTMAN:  In addition to the experience of financial abuse, you were very lonely when you were left by yourself. 

MS SIMBI:  Yes. 

MS EASTMAN: At home. And particularly when you had a small child. 

MS SIMBI:  Yep. 

MS EASTMAN:  And when you look back on those times, you think about the emotional abuse as well. And that's something you've talked about. You've also used the expression "gaslighting. " 

MS SIMBI:  Yep, yep. Yep. 

MS EASTMAN:  How   I mean, what happened when you had the experiences ofgaslighting? I think there are a few things that happened to you where you thought, "Oh, I didn't think that that had happened. "

MS SIMBI:  Yeah. 

MS EASTMAN:  And that helped you really understand the gaslighting. So do you want to talk about some of those occasions?

MS SIMBI:  Yeah. Before I talk about that, I would like to make a comment that most people in the CALD community, if not all, have a story to tell. But they don't know that their story is important or they don't know that that story needs to be told. And, in my own case, it was the same. I was just writing my books. Like, it was a form of therapy for me. And I didn't know that my story was important. And, yeah, so when we get to that realisation that this story needs to be told to help other people, yeah, it's important and we need to encourage other people also in the CALD communities to do the same. 

So in terms of the emotional abuse, I was lonely and I was   I actually got reminded by his relatives that I was begging for love, and at that time, I didn't know that I was begging to be loved. So I wanted to spend time with him and sometimes I would say, "Why don't we do things together as a couple, as other couples do?"  And he would say, "Okay, maybe one day we will go to watch a movie. " And he will say, "I'm not working one Thursday"   or, "It's Friday. I'm not working on Friday. Why not go to the movies on Friday?"  And I said, "Okay, we will go to the movies on Friday. " 

And then Friday comes. Friday morning, he's getting ready for work and I say, "But you said we are going to the movies today. "  And he's like, "I never said that. Maybe you dreamt about it. I never said that. Or maybe you are making up stories. "  And then there were things in the house, like a Colgate would go missing or my comb that I left on the dressing table would go missing, and then when I ask him, he said he has not seen it. 

And   so I will go and buy another comb or buy another Colgate, and then when we start using that Colgate, two, three days later, the other one will turn up or the other comb will turn up. And I'm like, how did this come back here?And he said it has been there all along, that I'm losing my mind or making up stories or trying to pick a fight with him. And so that was part of the emotional abuse. Another thing that people don't talk more about is some people think that when you have a disability that you don't have the urge for sex. 

And it is where, like, they only give that time on their own terms. Starving people in that way. And I went through that and that was   really made me feel ugly, made me feel really bad. Like, what is wrong with me and   yeah, when he was rejecting me in that way and it was only on his own terms, when he wants it. And, yeah, that really affected me emotionally. I kept thinking to myself, "What is wrong with me?Why is he not interested in me in that way?"

And I've heard of stories in the community where some people being treated in that way, and because some people think that if you have a disability that you don't have feelings, that you don't have that sexual urge, and   yeah. 

MS EASTMAN:  And he wouldn't go anywhere with you in public. 

MS SIMBI:  No. No. 

MS EASTMAN:  So when you were friends, you went different place. He took you, as you said, to the right shops. 

MS SIMBI:  To the shops, yeah. 

MS EASTMAN:  But when you were married, you were almost hidden away. 

MS SIMBI:  I was hidden.  I never went anywhere with him.  When he gets invited to birthday parties or dinner parties or work events or community events, he would go alone. Sometimes I would not even know. And, like I said, some of the birthday parties were family birthday parties that I was not included in. And so, yeah, he   he gets invited and then he would go alone. And sometimes I will find out, like, two, three days later when the birthday party had already passed. 

And I didn't   I don't even know, like, he was going somewhere for a birthday party. I don't know. And some of the emotional traumas were when he could not leave his phone anywhere near me.  When he goes to have a shower, he takes his phone with him.  When he goes to the bathroom, he takes his phone with him. And when somebody rings, like, he will go   leave the house and go answer his phone outside of the house and sometimes go in the car and answer the phone inside the car. Sometimes drive to the park and talked to people in the park. And that really   like, I was alone all the time. 

MS EASTMAN:  You found out that he was hiding you and that he was telling people that he wasn't married. 

MS SIMBI:  Mmm. 

MS EASTMAN:  And there was one day when his phone rang and your daughter was in the background saying, "Daddy, daddy. " What happened on that occasion?

MS SIMBI:  Yeah. So it was one evening, the phone rang and we were all in the kitchen, and so my daughter said, "Daddy, daddy" and it was a lady in the background. And I think it was one of his ex girlfriends. And the lady went, "Daddy? Who is that in the background?"  And he said   she asked, "Where are you?" And he said, "I'm at home. "  "Who is that in the background?"  And he said, "That's my family."  And she said, "I thought you told me you are not married." And he said, "Yes, I told you that, but I still have a family." 

And so things didn't go well. There was an exchange of text messages that I wasn't aware of until my daughter broke my phone, thank goodness.  She broke my phone and he had to give me one of his phones.  He always had two phones and I didn't know the reason why.  So he gave me one of his phones. He removed the password. His phones always had passwords that I was not allowed to know. So he removed the password but he forgot to delete the messages. 

So I read the messages and I realised this phone call happened on this day and this messages, and, yeah, there was exchange of messages where he was begging for forgiveness, where he was begging to hear her voice and all of that. And then I realised   from that phone, I realised that every night before he went to bed, she was the last person he rings before he went to bed. In the morning, he was the first person he rings. And so that really made me feel really bad. 

MS EASTMAN:  How much do you think your disability was part of the emotional abuse that you experienced?

MS SIMBI:  So my disability played a big role in that because of the stigma and shame.  There's no hiding that he was ashamed of going in public with me, and some people, like, they are ashamed of   like I said earlier, they hide people with a disability in the house, and that was the   the issue.  He was ashamed of going in public with me.  When we were   when we were friends he could take me to the shop and maybe people thought that I was his sister.

But he didn't   maybe he was ashamed then. Most   some of the times, I stayed in the car, and then he would go in the   in the shop and buy what I needed and   yeah. But, like, going out as a couple, there was one time I was receiving an award for my work with African women with disability in the community and also for leading African women with disability in Australian politics. That was after I ran for Parliament in South Australia. I was receiving an award. 

And so I   we went together. It was the three of us with my older daughter, so we went to that dinner and   and the organiser asked me, Esther   he had already introduced himself to everyone and then the organiser asked me, "Esther, are we still waiting for your partner" because that was my registration, that it will be me, my daughter and my partner. And I said, "No, he's here. "  And he said, "But he said he's your support worker. "

So he introduced himself to everyone else as my support person in that event but not as my partner. So I felt really embarrassed. And the organisation had booked me for   to give a speech at their general annual meeting, and I think they lost trust in me after that event when I told them he's my partner and then he told them he is my support worker. And so they cancelled that speech. I never heard from them again. There were things they had planned for me to do with them after that, and I never heard back from them again. 

MS EASTMAN:  There reached a point where you said enough is enough. 

MS SIMBI:  Mmm. 

MS EASTMAN:  And when you decided to make your own decisions. 

MS SIMBI:  Mmm. 

MS EASTMAN:  I think you said that's when the relationship came to an end. 

MS SIMBI:  Yeah. 

MS EASTMAN:  How did you get to that point in making a decision, that you had to end the relationship?

MS SIMBI:  Because I saw how my mum was treated and here   there I was, I found myself in an abusive relationship. I thought that the abuse had ended with my mother. And because I had two daughters, I don't want my daughters to grow up witnessing abuse, to grow up witnessing mum not being happy. And I don't want my children to know that living in an abusive relationship is normal. I want to do something about it, and that's why I decided that I am going to look for another house, and it will be up to him if he wants to come with us. The rules will be different. 

And so I decided to look for another house. He even helped me look for the house. Another reason why I was looking for the house was because the driveway had gravel, small gravels, and my wheelchair got stuck on the gravel one day when I came back from the shop. I was alone. Nobody was there to help me. So we wanted a house with a concrete driveway. So I decided to look for that house, and the landlord was not going to sign the contract to me. 

And   so   but we had been looking for the house together and we went together when I went to sign the contract. They thought that because I was heavily pregnant   I was working   even though I was working at that time, they thought I was going to take time off work and I might not be able to pay the rent. And he said, "But I'm here. We can pay the rent together. "  So he supported me in that way, and I got the house. 

And then when I got the house, I moved in and he   before I moved in, we talked, and he said that when the contract in the other house finish, he would move in with us. But he actually had other ideas. So, anyway, I moved in. I moved into the new place. And at that time, I decided that now is going to be my rules, and I don't want my children to be exposed into any kind of emotional trauma, any kind of abuse where they will grow up thinking that that kind of lifestyle is normal. 

And so when I went to the hospital to have my now 5 year old, he was still living in the other house. And so when I was in the hospital, he moved his things into my house, and then when I came back from the hospital he was already there. And I was happy that maybe things were going to be okay, but he   the relationship was not meant to be.  So he was there for two weeks and then he moved out. 

MS EASTMAN:  So it wasn't a situation where you had to move to leave the relationship, that he left. 

MS SIMBI:  Yeah. Yeah. 

MS EASTMAN:  How did you approach your finances and your supports after he left the relationship?Did you feel that you could make the decisions now and you were freer?

MS SIMBI:  Yep. 

MS EASTMAN:  Or did you need some supports to get up and going without him?

MS SIMBI:  Yeah. So after he left, I felt I was free because I could now breathe; I could make my own decisions without his family being there questioning everything I do. Questioning every decision I make. So I was free. I could make decisions that were best for me. I had to make that tough call. Decisions that were best for my children and without his relatives disapproving my decisions or my plans or ideas. So   because his relatives have always been   his sister particularly has always been the final decision maker. 

Like, I bring ideas on the table.  If I want to do something, I run it by him, and then he will run it by his sister, and his sister will make the decision. And so that time I felt relieved that finally I was able to make decisions for myself and for my children. 

MS EASTMAN:  Was this, your personal experience, something that drove you to really want to be the advocate for other CALD women with disability?

MS SIMBI:  Yeah, but even before that, when I was growing up, I saw how girls   especially girls and women with disability were treated in the Sudanese community. Others were called as possessed by evil spirit or cursed, that when you have a disability you are cursed. They believe that your parents might have done something in their previous life; that's why they have a child or children with a disability. So women were not given the opportunity to be them, to do what they want to do. To go to school and to go to work. They were not given that opportunity. 

So from a very young age, I started being vocal about those injustices. I don't   I didn't want to grow up like that. And from being me, I went to school, I had the opportunity to go to the university and graduated with two degrees. And got a job. And I'm living well with a disability. I'm contributing to society. I'm paying tax. I'm living like anybody else. And I   that's my dream. I want women with a disability to have the opportunity, to be given that opportunity. 

If they need a little bit extra support, they should be given that extra support to reach their full potential. And in terms of the domestic violence, after he moved out, that really pushed me into writing my books and advocating on behalf of other women in the CALD communities who sometimes do not know what abuse look like, who even if they can recognise what abuse look like are not able to report it because of the barriers that are there. 

Also language is another problem. For somebody to report abuse, that person really needs to speak with an interpreter. And sometimes the only interpreter in that community is either a relative to the husband or is somebody known in the community. And there were cases where an interpreter, after interpreting to somebody, the interpreter would go back to the community and start saying, "Have you heard this, this and that happened?"  And then the issue that was private became a community issue, a public issue. And that even jeopardised the woman's plans to leave. 

MS EASTMAN:  Can I ask you, then, in terms of the work do you at Purple Orange, does that advocacy work involve looking at improving supports for women from CALD and refugee backgrounds? 

MS SIMBI:  So the work that I do with Purple Orange, I work as a skilled project officer works with the people with disability from CALD backgrounds, and I run NDIS and disability awareness workshops to educate people in the community about disability, what is a disability. A lot of the people, they don't even know   like I said earlier, they only think you are not normal or you   something is wrong with you. 

So define the disability, the types of disability, how that affects individuals and families and also provide information about NDIS and link those communities with the NDIS. And through providing that information, that opens people's minds. In those workshops, when we're having the workshops and the peer network meetings, people talk about what is going on in their private lives and then, by sharing their stories, others will come to understand "Oh, that's abuse" or, "This is happening to me.  I didn't know that this is abuse."

So it opens up their mind and it provides them with information to be able to find support in the community and, yes, we link them   whether it's just providing a number for them to ring or giving them an address or a name of a person to talk to, yeah, that's what we do at Purple Orange. 

MS EASTMAN:  And you participated in some community engagement work with the Royal Commission. 

MS SIMBI:  Yes. 

MS EASTMAN:  And the Commissioners have in the room the storyboards of that communication, which is "What we would like to see and our experiences. "  And they're in the room with us. 

MS SIMBI:  Yeah. 

MS EASTMAN:  But also behind me is a tapestry. 

MS SIMBI:  Yeah. 

MS EASTMAN:  Now, am I right in understanding that some of your words we will find on the tapestry. 

MS SIMBI:  Yeah. Yes, yes. 

MS EASTMAN:  And also some of the suggestions that were made from that engagement. 

MS SIMBI:  Mmm. 

MS EASTMAN:  And also the discussion about experiences, that when you looked at them this afternoon, you can say, "I can see my words in there. " 

MS SIMBI:  Yeah, yeah. 

MS EASTMAN:  Can you tell us about the importance of having that type of engagement, but also what you thought was important coming out of that engagement that we can see here in the room. 

MS SIMBI:  So, from my own personal journey, and from the work that I'm doing now with the Purple Orange, from hearing people's stories, like, bringing people out of their houses   it's very hard to bring CALD people out of their houses. But once you get people out of their houses, when they sit together, they share their stories, and the feedback they give melts my heart. 

It makes it fulfilling, like the work I'm doing is rewarding. And like the words that   we have meetings. We   at the MCCSA last year, we had a CALD Disability Royal Commission workshop, and some of those words were thrown around the room from that workshop. And it's really good to see that those words do not go unnoticed, that it's got to see that those words are lost. And to be able to see the words on the wall, it's really good and it encourage people, and it gives people energy to come together and do more work together for   behind me is the refugee, do more for reaching women and for CALD women. 

MS EASTMAN:  You have got some ideas and suggestions for change, and one is about the training of support workers and the importance of support workers being able to ask the right questions but to identify if somebody might be at risk of domestic or family violence in their homes. 

MS SIMBI:  Yeah. 

MS EASTMAN:  What, in your experience, do you feel that support workers need to be able to do to ask the right questions in a respectful way, recognise privacy, recognise the agency of people to make the decisions themselves. But what do you think needs to be done to ensure support workers have those skills?

MS SIMBI:  Yep. So, for me, when my support workers come to my house, I talk to them,  and I talk to their provider, and because I have a voice, there are a lot of people with a disability out there who don't have a voice. So it hurts me to think, like, what is going on there. One particular CALD community has asked me to raise this issue here today of a support worker going to look after a person with a disability. This person is in a wheelchair, and this support worker has been asked by the family to do housework instead of looking after the person with a disability. 

So this support worker goes there and do the washing, the laundry, for everyone in the house, not only for the person with a disability. And then cook food and serve everyone, except the person in the wheelchair is isolated. Everybody is sitting on the table and eating, but that one is isolated, is there looking – non-verbal. Is there looking. And things like that. Support workers need proper training to be able to identify what is my role and what is not my role. 

Like I said for me, I tell them what they need to do, but there are people with a disability out there that don't tell them what they need to do. Those   and they need to know before somebody tells them that this is what you need to do. They need that proper training. And also they need cultural competence training, so that when they go to CALD houses they know what to do in that house. If they   

MS EASTMAN:  What is good cultural competency training?What does that look like?

MS SIMBI:  Work with the family, but know your first priority:  Why are you in the house? Are you going to   are you   have you gone to the house to work with the whole family to provide services to that family or to that one person with a disability?If it's going there to take the person with disability out for social activities or community access, do that. Not to go and start doing the housework and all of that. 

And also another thing is, like, training the support workers to be able to recognise, when they go to somebody's house, to be able to recognise signs of abuse. Unless if the support worker is the person that is perpetrating the abuse. But if the abuse is perpetrated by somebody else, that support worker should be able to recognise the signs before the person with a disability disclosed that abuse. They should be able to recognise. And they should know who to report that abuse to, what to say, when to say it and also, yeah, that    

MS EASTMAN:  Is it hard for a support worker to see the abuse if it's emotional abuse or financial abuse?It might not be as obvious as physical abuse. How would support workers develop the competency of recognising emotional abuse or financial abuse like the abuse you experienced?

MS SIMBI:  So if it's financial abuse, my understanding is that a lot of the support workers, when they go to support people with a disability, they will go and do shopping for   it's from there that they will know something is right or something is not right with this person's finances. So they should be able to recognise   and also warning signs of mental illness. If somebody is about to hurt themselves, they should be able to recognise what that looks like. And they need that proper training to be able to recognise that. 

MS EASTMAN:  I'm conscious of the time and that the Commissioners that have some questions that they want to ask you as well. But thank you very much for the discussion today.  I know there's a lot more we could talk about, and we hope that you have an ongoing discussion with the Royal Commission. But, Commissioner Mason. 

COMMISSIONER MASON:  Thank you, Ms Eastman. Thank you, Ms Simbi, for your evidence. I'm going to ask the Commissioners if they have any questions for you. I will first go to Dr  Galbally in Melbourne. Would you have a question?

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:  Thank you very much for your evidence today. It was really valuable. I would like to ask you about women's refuges and whether CALD women with a disability are accessing those or whether they are just   you know, completely alien to go into. And what your recommendations would be about that area. 

MS SIMBI:  Not that I'm aware of, any woman with a disability accessing those services. Mainly because they are gatekeepers and those women with a disability need to go through those gatekeepers in the family and in the community. And, like I said, decisions are made for them. And so my recommendation would be for the government, for the Royal Commission to make a law and for the government to fund more services for CALD communities. 

Those organisations that are already working with CALD communities and new emerging organisations that work with the CALD communities, there should be more funding to provide ongoing sustainable   sustainability is somewhere on the wall   sustainable services. So that it's more, like, just providing information and then, that's it, see you later.  Work with those families, provide education. So that people will know how to get out, how   where to report and who to talk to. 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:  A follow up question would be the family violence fund that Ms Lee referred to yesterday. Do you have that in South Australia and would that ever be used by the communities you work with?

MS SIMBI:  So when I was going through the violence, I was linked with Migrant Women's Support Services. And they actually helped me in that situation with things like nappies and clothes for my baby and also emotional support. And, yes, so there are services in the community like that and also like the work that Purple Orange is doing and MCCSA, and MRC and other services, but the thing is people don't know what service is out there. 

So for the education and awareness-raising in the community to happen there need to be more funding so that people like me and others in the community can reach those communities and tell people there is something here or there is somebody here you can contact. 



COMMISSIONER BENNETT:  People come to Australia under a number of visas, but my understanding is that when refugees come to Australia there is a pre-departure course, almost, for want of a word, that is supposed to help a refugee to understand life in Australia. And then there is some government program that supports the first few weeks of someone. I wanted to ask you that   did you   was that your experience?Did you have a predeparture?

And if you did, did it tell you about values that we claim to have in Australia about women's rights and that there was support for people with disability and that violence against women was not acceptable. And when you arrived was there   I'm trying to get to the bit where the   where refugee women don't know and is there perhaps a better onus in the very beginning when they are pre-departure and when they arrive in Australia, that there is better information for women and particularly for people who might have a disability. Do you have a view on that?

MS SIMBI:  So when I was preparing to come to Australia, I did attend the induction, but the induction was not so much about the services out there or what service I would get as a woman with a disability. The induction was about the law and the rules in Australia, and what we were told was no burning rubbish. That was what we were told. That when you go to Australia you are not going to burn rubbish, how to cross and that kind of thing. But not into details about contacting police. 

A lot of the cultural communities, people from cultural   people CALD communities, especially the Sudanese and the African communities fear police because back in Africa the legal system that involves police, people fear that because of corruption and a lot of things get done to civilians and innocent people. So when they come here, when people come here, they don't have that right, they don't know what their rights are. 

Even though they have the right to report, they don't know what their rights are. And there are still people   even as I talk now, there are still people who fear the police here in Australia. So when I got to Australia, there was information sessions with the police, with the Centrelink, with Cancer Australia, how to keep yourself safe so you don't get burned. And that's it. The problem   

COMMISSIONER BENNETT:  So no sense what your rights are or where to go if you needed help or advice?

MS SIMBI:  When I attended my induction here in Australia, resettlement sessions, there was not much information about that. There might be now, but the thing is we have to also understand that when people come from refugee background, they are carrying a lot of baggage. And then when we come here, we are bombarded by information. That information is not going to stick. Like, people will forget. Tomorrow they don't even know what was said yesterday, like, who to contact. So there is too much information in the first three months. 

If the information was, like, to be extended at least for a year so that people can attend one information session a week, that would be better. But when I came, all the information happened in one week, and then again I had to worry about resettling and all of that. So it's really heavy, like, for a person from a refugee background, from straightaway from refugee camp, to store that information and to learn everything. 


COMMISSIONER MASON:  Thank you, Commissioner Bennett. I have a question. You mentioned about the tension between cultural rights and disability rights. And you also mentioned about doing and providing training on informing people around what is disability and those supports in the community. I wanted to just ask a question. As far as where we are today, that tension between cultural rights and disability rights   and I'm particularly thinking about the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability   in the CALD community, is that beginning to become better understood and those cultural rights becoming less powerful to exclude people as in those experiences that you shared this afternoon?Or is there still more work to do?

MS SIMBI:  We still have a long way to go. It's only a tiny bit of work that we have done and other organisations have done. A tiny bit of work that has been done. There is still a lot of work to be done for people to get the awareness, to be educated on cultural practices in relation to disability and violence. So, yeah, we still have a lot of work to do and that's why I said the government should fund more. More   yeah, organisations and   yeah. 

And get more CALD people, people from cultural and linguistically diverse backgrounds, to work in every organisation, whether it is mainstream or   so that people can reach those communities. There are a lot of communities that do not even know, they are   nobody has even approached them yet. When we approached the Bhutanese community that I'm working with and the Spanish speaking communities, there is a word that the Spanish speaking communities said that   blessings from heaven, like, rains from heaven. Nothing like that has ever happened in their community before. 

And the Bhutanese community, the same. They said nobody has ever contacted them before; nothing like that has ever happened in their community. And there's still a lot of CALD communities out there that do not know what is happening.  They don't know that this Royal Commission is happening, this hearing is happening.   And like I said, everybody has a story to tell. But people don't know who to tell that story to and where   how to go about it. So we need that ongoing funding, ongoing services to reach out to those CALD communities, to educate people so that they can have that understanding and awareness of what is happening in the community. 

COMMISSIONER MASON:  Well, Ms Simbi, you have certainly spoken from the heart and also really shared your experiences with us as a person from a CALD background, and we truly thank you for coming and giving your evidence today. 

MS SIMBI:  Thank you for giving me the opportunity. 

COMMISSIONER MASON:  You are free to go. 

MS SIMBI:  Yeah. Thank you. 

COMMISSIONER MASON:  Thank you, Ms Eastman. 

MS EASTMAN:  Thank you. And, Commissioners, if people have watched Esther's evidence today from CALD communities and they wish to contact the Royal Commission, I very much encourage people to contact the Royal Commission.  We've got the telephone numbers.  We have a website. But perhaps even through Esther and Purple Orange to make that connection so that other CALD women and CALD men and CALD young people can engage in the Royal Commission as well. So thank you very much. 

MS SIMBI:  Thank you for the opportunity. 


MS EASTMAN:  Commissioners, can we have a short adjournment. We need to do a little reconstitution of the hearing room here in Hobart. If we aim for something between five but perhaps 10 minutes just to give everybody a break to reconstitute. If we can come back then. 

COMMISSIONER MASON:  Yes. If we can come back at 10 past 3. Thank you. 



COMMISSIONER MASON:  Thank you, Ms Ryan. 

MS RYAN:  Commissioners, our next witness is Taya Ketelaar Jones, who is a solicitor at the Tasmanian Refugee Legal Service. 

COMMISSIONER MASON:  Thank you. And will she take the affirmation or the   

MS RYAN:  She will take the affirmation. 


MS RYAN:  The associate will now administer the affirmation. 



COMMISSIONER MASON:  Ms Ketelaar Jones, to let you know where all the Commissioners are, in Melbourne is Dr Rhonda Galbally AC. Beside me in the Hobart hearing room is Ms Barbara Bennett PSM, and I'm Andrea Mason, Commissioner as well. So now Ms Ryan will take you through some questions now. Thank you.

MS RYAN:  You are a lawyer. You graduated with a Bachelor of Arts and a law degree, and most of your professional career has been spent in community legal centres, hasn't it?


MS RYAN:  You began with the Women's Legal Service. You have a background in family violence, assisting women escaping family violence and assisting women with family law needs. 


MS RYAN:  And you have worked for the Tasmanian Law Reform Commission. 


MS RYAN:  And you have worked overseas. 


MS RYAN:  And you are presently at the Tasmanian Refugee Legal Service. 

MS KETELAAR JONES:  That's correct. 

MS RYAN:  And you have worked with them since August 2020. 


MS RYAN:  And you deal exclusively in migration law. 

MS KETELAAR JONES:  That's right. 

MS RYAN:  And the present practice that you have is a combination of general migration law and assisting clients who wish to access the family violence provisions of the Migration Regulation. Is that correct?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  General refugee and humanitarian law, as well as the Family Violence Service, yes. 

MS RYAN:  And in terms of your caseload, how great a caseload would the family violence clients be?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  Approximately 50 per cent of my client load would be from the Family Violence Migration Service section of Refugee Legal, but it would occupy about 80 per cent of my actual workload. 

MS RYAN:  How long has the Refugee Legal Service run a Family Violence Service?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  The Family Violence Migration Service has been running since   for around a year now. And it was launched as a   to fill a pre-existing service gap that was in Tasmania, and it's a specialist service that's delivered by the Refugee Legal Service. 

MS RYAN:  And that arm of the service is delivered by you. You are the primary lawyer. 


MS RYAN:  Where does the funding come from for that service?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  That service was originally funded by a community grant from the Tasmanian Community Fund, and that was for my position for one year. We are exploring ongoing funding options at the moment. 

MS RYAN:  Because that grant has run out?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  That's right. 

MS RYAN:  Now, how do people generally arrive in Australia   immigrate to Australia?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  So there's a range of different pathways to come into Australia. There's different visa streams. So there might be humanitarian visa streams. There might be skilled visa streams, student visa streams, refugee   so those who have arrived on another temporary visa and then applied for protection onshore   and family visa streams. 

MS RYAN:  Now, the assistance for people who have migrated to Australia accessing different arrangements and accessing government benefits, that system has been provided for people who are escaping family violence or have been the target of family violence with their partners in Australia. That's found in the Migration Regulations. 

MS KETELAAR JONES:  So there are special provisions in the Migration Regulations for people who have experienced family violence, yes. 

MS RYAN:  And that's where we find out what the definition of "spouse" is. 

MS KETELAAR JONES:  The Migration Act has a definition of spouse, yes. 

MS RYAN:  And a partner. 


MS RYAN:  And de facto. 


MS RYAN:  And this is important because they are very specific, aren't they. 

MS KETELAAR JONES:  That's right. 

MS RYAN:  And it's technical. 


MS RYAN:  And all of this migration law is highly technical, isn't it?


MS RYAN:  What's the advantage for a client to access the family law provisions. 

MS KETELAAR JONES:  So the family violence provisions under the Migration Regulations allow someone who has applied for a partner visa to be granted their permanent partner visa despite the breakdown of the relationship if they can prove that they've experienced family violence. 

MS RYAN:  And you used the words "partner visa". Is the type of their visa critical to whether they can access those provisions?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  Yes. So those provisions only apply to a very limited group of subclasses of visas.  Generally speaking, if you have applied for or being granted a temporary partner visa, either onshore or offshore partner visa. 

MS RYAN:  And when you say "onshore and offshore", you mean that at the time the application was made, they were leaving   either living in Australia or outside Australia. 

MS KETELAAR JONES:  That's right. 

MS RYAN:  What happens if a person has entered the country on a visa that states their intention to marry, they are subjected to family violence, but culturally they haven't married so culturally they can't live with that person. So they are targets of family violence but can they access those provisions?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  If someone enters Australia as a holder of what's called a prospective marriage visa and they have not yet married their prospective spouse, they cannot access those family violence provisions, no. 

MS RYAN:  And let's say you've entered Australia on a student visa. Can you access the family violence provisions if you become the target in Australia of family violence?


MS RYAN:  With respect to your service generally, is there any particularly   any particular cultures that are more represented than others coming to your service seeking assistance?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  I see a very, very diverse range of clients at the service. There are probably some client cohorts that I have multiple clients from. So Nepalese, Nigerian, Filipino, but, really, I would say I have a very, very diverse range. I have clients from the US, I have clients from the UK, Japan, Korea   yeah, very broad. 

MS RYAN:  So it's common for you to also see people who originally are from English speaking countries?


MS RYAN:  And what about their socioeconomic backgrounds?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  Very diverse. 

MS RYAN:  Have any men accessed your services to assist   to get assistance with family violence?


MS RYAN:  And was that successful?


MS RYAN:  But all the rest of your clients have been women. 

MS KETELAAR JONES:  Everyone else. 

MS RYAN:  Now, the barriers for CALD women accessing any sort of help, and certainly help with migration status and changing it, the social isolation they experience. 


MS RYAN:  Language and cultural barriers. Ignorance of their legal rights. Ignorance of the supports that are here that are available. 


MS RYAN:  And within that section, legal rights, they actually have very often no inkling of their migration status. 


MS RYAN:  Are there any additional barriers that women with a disability from CALD backgrounds face?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  I would say there would definitely be additional barriers. Physical barriers in particular. Especially if you have something like a language barrier that then is coupled with a sensory impairment. The ability to communicate is severely restrained when you're trying to rely on both an interpreter but also, you know, English as a second language but also you require other sensory    

MS RYAN:  Specific technology. 

MS KETELAAR JONES:  Yeah. Accessing   I mean, physical access to services as well, the ability to know what services are out there, I think that is it is compounded by having a disability. 

MS RYAN:  Tell the commission about the process for accessing the family violence provisions. People have to first prove that they are in a genuine continuing relationship with their partner or their recently separated partner. 

MS KETELAAR JONES:  That's right. So the first step in any family violence claim is an assessment of whether or not the relationship was genuine and continuing up until the time that it broke down. And the assessment of a genuine and continuing relationship generally involves a four factor assessment of the financial aspects of the relationship, the social aspects of the relationship, the nature of the household and the nature of the commitment. 

MS RYAN:  Can I just give you a reminder to not talk too fast because we have got interpreters here   


MS RYAN:     and they will need to keep up with you. How are those factors assessed?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  So those factors are assessed using whatever evidence has been given in the original partner visa application, which often would have been prepared by the sponsor of the partner visa, as opposed to the actual partner visa applicant. 

MS RYAN:  And it's assessed by a public servant to begin with, isn't it? 

MS KETELAAR JONES:  That's right. 

MS RYAN:  So they need to prove those aspects of the relationship, quite apart from the family violence. 

MS KETELAAR JONES:  That's right. That will be assessed by a delegate at the Department of Home Affairs. 

MS RYAN:  And do you see people who've had their application rejected at that stage, before family violence is even considered?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  Yes. So, at that stage, if they are not satisfied of the genuineness of the relationship, the delegate doesn't then need to go on to consider the evidence of family violence. 

MS RYAN:  And how does that client come to you?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  At that stage, they would then receive a   what's called a natural justice letter, so that would be a letter saying that the Department is considering refusing their visa and requesting further information. 

MS RYAN:  And at that time, you accept them as a client   and I will get on and get into more detail in that in a moment. But I just want to discuss if their relationship is accepted as genuine and continuing, what is the next step with the application?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  So if their relationship is assessed as genuine and continuing, the next step is to present evidence of the family violence, which could be done either as judicial evidence or non-judicial evidence. 

MS RYAN:  Could you give an example of each?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  So, judicial evidence might be something like a charge or conviction   sorry, a finding of guilt against the perpetrator sponsor of the visa. That has to be finally resolved in court. Or it might be a final family violence order against the perpetrator or sponsor. An interim family violence order or police family violence order is not sufficient. 

MS RYAN:  That's because there has been no judicial evidence and that evidence assessed by a judicial officer and a finding made. 

MS KETELAAR JONES:  That's right. Non-judicial evidence, then, is a statement by the applicant victim to   and that's a very detailed statutory declaration that outlines their claims of family violence. And then at least two pieces of   what they call “acceptable evidence”, which is from an instrument that's prescribed in the Migration Regulations. It might be a statement from a social worker or a police report. 

MS RYAN:  While we are talking about that, you have   you've stated that people get a natural justice letter, which is a letter from an authority saying, "Look, we've made a decision adverse to what you wanted us to make and you've got X amount of time to respond to us and try and change our mind. "  Right. Now, people who have their claim of family violence rejected by an independent assessor, that   they get a natural justice letter as well, don't they?Yes?


MS RYAN:  Yes. And how can you impact   you say that the authorities and the regulations require certain proof, including a statutory declaration, basically their own evidence. How can people, without your assistance, gather and understand those requirements. Can they even do it if they come from a CALD background and they have possibly disabilities?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  It's certainly a very, very technical area, and there are very technical evidence requirements. The requirements for what even the applicant themselves, their statutory declaration has to include, is very technical. The requirements for what each of the evidence categories specifically must include, again, is very technical. And if it doesn't meet one of those requirements, then it won't be accepted as a   as a piece of evidence. 

In my assessment, I think it would be virtually impossible for someone to self represent.  The majority of clients that I see coming to me at the stage where they have been referred to the independent expert because their evidence hasn't been accepted, it's been because they've self-represented in the initial stage and have really struggled to collect that evidence themselves. 

MS RYAN:  Have they also struggled to understand what they need?


MS RYAN:  What do you think the standard of education in these communities is about what is required to access those provisions?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  Well, virtually all of the clients that have presented to me have not been aware of the existence of the provisions until they've come to me. And I would say the majority of service providers that I even worked with up until we launched the service - and I did a lot of stakeholder engagement - also weren't aware of the existence of these provisions. 

MS RYAN:  What is your view of the knowledge of family violence dynamics of the people who make these assessments?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  So the people that make the assessments are referred to as independent experts. That   that happens where the applicant's initial evidence of family violence hasn't been accepted. The independent expert interviews the applicant and then writes a report. I usually   the applicant is not allowed a legal representative in that interview, so I will submit a freedom of information request and access that report. The reports that I've seen through that process have shown    

MS RYAN:  Reports that you've gotten through the freedom of the information?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  Through the freedom of information process, yes. 

MS RYAN:  Can I   before you go on to that, she's got a natural justice letter asking her to reply in 28 days. How is that affected by your seeking a freedom of information application?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  It's certainly something that clients find very distressing, in that they will have a 28 day deadline and a freedom of information request. At the moment, I'm finding they're taking six months to come back to me. Generally speaking, we will get extensions of time, but often a delegate might only grant those in 28-day increments. Sometimes we will get indefinite extensions but it's at the discretion of the delegate. 

MS RYAN:  But it's still   regardless of the fact that you cannot amend their application until you have    

MS KETELAAR JONES:  That's right. 

MS RYAN:     received the freedom of information.  But regardless of that, you're required by most of these public servants to seek an extension every 28-day deadline   


MS RYAN:     over that six month or so period. 

MS KETELAAR JONES:  Most recently I have had a lot more success in getting indefinite extensions. So I will say that there has been an improvement in that. 

MS RYAN:  And by "indefinite" you mean   

MS KETELAAR JONES:  Until the freedom of information rules, yes. 

MS RYAN:  And then you get another timeframe. 


MS RYAN:  All right. So I interrupted you, and you were going to tell us about you have got the freedom of information documents back. There's a report, and you were going to talk about your client's response to those reports. 

MS KETELAAR JONES:  So the reports that come back are generally   I will get   they're quite distressing in content for the client to read. Generally speaking, I've   well, it's my opinion that the independent assessors adopt highly critical statements of their assessment of the client. 

MS RYAN:  Could you give an example of that?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  They will   the majority have commented on reliability of the applicant. Have commented on   well, have asserted that the applicant has essentially falsified evidence in their claims in an attempt to stay in Australia.  That they have simply not believed what she's said, that she hasn't disclosed any fear for her safety or wellbeing. 

MS RYAN:  Let's just break that down before you go further. Can you tell us some of the reasons that have been pro offered for why the applicants haven't been believed?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  There might be that there was inconsistent information given in the original partner visa application and they don't understand why that then hasn't been   or, yeah, questioned why those disclosures only came up later. There might be a reason for   you know, they might point to the applicant's presentation at the interview. 

MS RYAN:  For example?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  So an applicant not being able to recall specific details, specific dates. An applicant presenting as distressed or uncomfortable, potentially avoiding eye contact, fidgeting. Wanting to rely on notes or avoiding   yeah, having difficulty recalling specific details. 

MS RYAN:  And your evidence would be that many of your clients have PTSD and it affects their memory?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  That's right. 

MS RYAN:  And that is something that's known at the time of the interview?


MS RYAN:  And the person making these assessments, the independent expert, is more often than not a psychologist, aren't they?


MS RYAN:  All right. You were going to tell me about some of the other things that shock your clients in the report. 

MS KETELAAR JONES:  Generally speaking in the report, I guess that it's at that point that the independent expert will also put any adverse information to the client. So that might be where the sponsor has actually contacted the Department of Home Affairs to make allegations or to put their side, basically, to the Department. And that information   the first time that the client will have heard that will be put to them in the interview. And then they will be asked, "What do you say to that?" as well. And that's often quite a confronting process for them and will often, obviously, catch them off guard. 

MS RYAN:  And from what your clients have told you and from what you've read in the documents, is there evidence of trauma-informed practice during these interviews?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  Not at all. 

MS RYAN:  And it's the case, isn't it, that many sponsors or partners have actually completed the application themselves, originally, and all the applicant, your client, has done, is sign the document. They have no idea of the contents of that application, often, do they?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  That's quite common. 

MS RYAN:  It's the case that an independent assessor will sometimes rely on the fact that the evidence in the application under the family violence provisions and the statements made in the original application contradict each other. 

MS KETELAAR JONES:  That's right. 

MS RYAN:  And that   that view is relied on to reject their application, isn't it?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  Yes. That would be seen as them giving inconsistent information. 

MS RYAN:  Do many of your clients, when they come to you, understand the different categories of family violence?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  Very few, I think. 

MS RYAN:  And how do you handle it when you realise they have no idea that the troubles they are trying to communicate to you, we in Australia would characterise as family violence?How would you handle that with your clients?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  It's something that I think, obviously, it's not my role, I suppose, as a lawyer to educate or to inform them that they are a victim of family violence. Instead, I try to take instruction from them in a way that elicits responses that identifies those kinds of behaviours. So I'm   rather than asking them if they have experienced financial abuse, I might ask them whether or not they have access to their own independent finances. 

I might ask them about, yeah, whether or not they've got their driver's licence since they came to Australia   those kinds of things   and then try to find a way to weave that into their statement and then obviously talk to them about the way the law sees those behaviours and then refer them and will facilitate active referrals to other support services that can sort of talk them through that process of identifying that they are actually a victim of family violence. 

MS RYAN:  And prior to separating, it's the case, isn't it, that your clients have, almost without exception, been told that their partner will withdraw their sponsorship if they leave?


MS RYAN:  That their partner has the power to have them deported if they leave?


MS RYAN:  That their partner can cancel their visa?


MS RYAN:  That, given that they have the power to get the applicant deported, that will happen but the children will stay with him?


MS RYAN:  Do you agree that that's almost without exception the story that you're told when people seek your help?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  Every single one of my partner visa cases has involved that, yes. 

MS RYAN:  To what extent does your service assist women with disability   who live with a disability?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  I would say a lot of my clients are   well, the number of my clients that self identify as living with disability or having disability is quite low. It would be a very low percentage. 

MS RYAN:  What about objectively?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  I think objectively it would be higher. I think the process in which   so gathering evidence to present a family violence claim will involve getting medical reports and reports from psychologists and counsellors that have worked with the client. Those reports, especially when done, you know, as an independent assessment by a separate clinical psychologist, might reveal psychosocial disability and so based on   

MS RYAN:  What would be examples of those psychosocial disabilities?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  Most commonly it would be post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression to the point of clinical presentation. 

MS RYAN:  So once you get that report, as far as you're concerned, you view that as a disability that you will want to present in their application and explain?


MS RYAN:  Have you ever acted for someone who lives with a physical disability?


MS RYAN:  What sort of physical disability was that?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  A mobility disability. 

MS RYAN:  What about a sensory disability?


MS RYAN:  What sort of disability was that?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  She was visually impaired. 

MS RYAN:  And your service has been running for 12 months?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  Yes. The specialist family violence part of the service, yes. 

MS RYAN:  Yes, yes. Thank you. Yes. Now, Commissioners, you have already got the aide-memoire that sets out Client A and Client B case studies. And you will see that both of those people have psychosocial disabilities. They are actually clients of Ms Ketelaar Jones at present, and we will run through those in greater detail to make some of these points shortly. You say that you will often rely on expert medical or allied health reports. They can be costly. We are talking not hundreds; we are talking thousands of dollars. How are they generally paid for?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  So we now have a partnership with the Red Cross, who receive funding for   it's a pilot program for women on temporary visas experiencing family violence. Part of that pilot program, they can administer $3,000 in funding for any woman on a temporary visa, and so they will usually fund those reports. But prior to that program existing, clients were having to cover that cost themselves. 

MS RYAN:  And that Red Cross funding, that is a specific program of the Commonwealth, and it's limited. 


MS RYAN:  It will eventually stop. 

MS KETELAAR JONES:  At the moment, it's a one year pilot, but it's looking like it should   there has been an indication it will be extended for three years. 

MS RYAN:  Can you tell me what your clients' reactions are when they read these medical and allied health reports?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  There is mixed reactions. Some clients have expressed a sense of relief that their experiences are heard and understood.  Other clients have expressed a lot of shock and almost rejection of some of the comments in there as they don't identify themselves as having disability and that culturally within their experience, having disability is not viewed in a positive light, and they don't identify with that at all. 

MS RYAN:  But some of them are relieved?


MS RYAN:  So they   "I understand what's happening to me now. "


MS RYAN:  Okay. Now, women do occasionally come and see you while they are still in a relationship. Somehow, despite the barriers, they found out about the service. They come and seek your advice. But very few of those women follow through, in your experience. 

MS KETELAAR JONES:  That's right. 

MS RYAN:  And some of the reasons are the length of time it would take. Obviously, the huge effort to separate in the first place. And it can be quicker sometimes, in their view, to just stay in the relationship and get a different visa while there. 


MS RYAN:  And they've got no guarantee the family violence provisions will be successful for them. 

MS KETELAAR JONES:  That's right. 

MS RYAN:  There is a possibility that if it's not, they will have to appeal to the AAT to get any action on that. And there's a filing fee of $3,000 for that. 


MS RYAN:  So not only is there the costs of the disbursements   medical reports   your service is free, but anything outside of that, they will have to pay for, and at the end of the day they might be up for a $3,000 filing fee for an appeal. 


MS RYAN:  And, in any event, all of that is re-traumatising for them in any event. 


MS RYAN:  So the majority of your work is with women post-separation. 

MS KETELAAR JONES:  That's right. 

MS RYAN:  And they either come to you because there's been a precipitating event, medical or police intervention, or they have received a natural justice letter. 


MS RYAN:  We will turn to the case studies now. Client A, you say, is on a partner visa, so she has the advantage there that the family violence provisions are expressly something that she falls within, and Client B is a non-partner visa. What sort of visa does she have? 

MS KETELAAR JONES:  She is a secondary visa holder on her husband's skilled visa. 

MS RYAN:  So he's the primary visa holder. 

MS KETELAAR JONES:  That's right. 

MS RYAN:  And did either of these clients understand their visa status when they came to you?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  Client A, who had applied for the partner visa, did. Client B was completely unaware of what her visa status was. 

MS RYAN:  And Client A, she understood her visa status. What country was she from?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  The United States. 

MS RYAN:  And Client B?


MS RYAN:  And the lady from Pakistan, Client B, some of her particular characteristics were that she was very, very young. 


MS RYAN:  And that she had barely met her husband before she married. 

MS KETELAAR JONES:  That's right. 

MS RYAN:  And then very quickly moved to Australia. 

MS KETELAAR JONES:  That's right. 

MS RYAN:  And the family violence she was subjected to was particularly horrendous. 


MS RYAN:  She was basically kept under lock and key and subjected to significant and horrific violence. 


MS RYAN:  And both these ladies had psychosocial disabilities. 


MS RYAN:  Could you explain which disability?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  Client A had post-traumatic stress disorder. That was from   that was pre-existing from quite some time ago but was quite well managed at the time. 

MS RYAN:  At what time?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  At the time that she came to Australia, it was well managed. There was a sort of recurrence of the symptoms during the relationship that was exacerbated by the family violence. It was then subsequently fairly well managed post separation, and then she experienced a severe recurrence in symptoms when she was going through the independent expert assessment process and trying to access the family violence provisions. 

MS RYAN:  And Client B?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  Client B had anxiety and depression.  She also actually had an ongoing physical injuries that were   unresolved as to whether or not they are bordering on disability as a result of the injuries from the family violence as well. 

MS RYAN:  And your client from Pakistan, when she was admitted to hospital, the multicultural liaison officer tried very hard to get her alone so she could ask her about some of her suspicions about family violence. 


MS RYAN:  And she wasn't able to, was she?


MS RYAN:  No. So how was it, that Client B, the lady from Pakistan, escaped family violence and sought your help?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  Eventually, she sought assistance from police. She called police, and they responded immediately with a police family violence order and then facilitated her being transferred through to a women's shelter. And at that time, Family Violence Support Service intervened and all of the other support services intervened and she sought assistance from our service. 

MS RYAN:  So she had temporary shelter, but she didn't have an income, did she?


MS RYAN:  Because even if she was successful in an ideal world under those sort of family violence provisions, she couldn't access those provisions. So she can't get access to any parenting payment, Medicare. She can't get government assistance to pay for a psychologist to help her with her depression. 


MS RYAN:  What about Client A from the United States?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  Client A had access   because she had applied for a permanent visa, she had access to Medicare. And she had work rights and was able to work, but was still quite financially vulnerable. 

MS RYAN:  And Client A also experienced prejudice because of her same-sex relationship. 

MS KETELAAR JONES:  That's right. 

MS RYAN:  What were some of the assumptions, the erroneous assumptions that were made about her claims of family violence based on the fact that she was in a same sex relationship?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  So she had   she had sought assistance from police and not been able to get any assistance from police, which, in her instructions to me, she felt that her engagement with police, they were quite prejudicial towards her. Certainly in the independent expert's report, there were a lot of statements that identified certain behaviours that were   that met the definition of family violence but the independent expert failed to identify as being family violence. 

The independent expert didn't identify the power dynamic that was present in their relationship and based it largely on a lack of physical violence and stated that she, in her opinion, wasn't satisfied that the client's fear was reasonable in the circumstances. 

MS RYAN:  With your knowledge of the regulations, the guidelines and the Act, is there any information, any legal requirement in any of those three pieces of legislation and guidelines that would back up that view, or was it completely arbitrary?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  Well, my submission in response to that was that she reached a   yeah, illogical conclusion, essentially, and that based on the material provided, it was an illogical conclusion that didn't meet the definition of family violence under the Migration Regulations. 

MS RYAN:  And you assisted Client A by obtaining your own forensic evidence. How was that paid for?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  Client A had to pay for that herself because it was before the Red Cross funding came through. 

MS RYAN:  And how did you assist Client B?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  Because Client B wasn't eligible for accessing the family violence provisions, she had limited options in terms of a migration pathway herself. She also had recently had a child, had no kind of student or skilled options for herself, but because of the circumstances of the breakdown of the relationship and the risk of harm if she was to return to Pakistan, she was then   that gave rise to quite strong protection grounds on the basis of threats and risk of harm from both her family and his family if she was to return. And so we lodged an application for a protection visa for her and the child. 

MS RYAN:  And you've done a number of those applications for women in her situation. 


MS RYAN:  With Client A and Client B has there been any resolution of their application?


MS RYAN:  So you are awaiting the outcome. 


MS RYAN:  Can you tell me if you, in your 12 months, have lost any of these applications?


MS RYAN:  No. Excellent. Now, I'm going to ask you about an ideal situation in a moment, but staying with the case studies and looking at the particular disadvantages that Client B found in that she couldn't access the family violence provisions, so she had no government support other than having a roof over her head for her and the child. I've asked you this before in preparation, and you said to me that, ideally, a service would be a one-stop shop. It wouldn't be siloed. 

So a woman would come and see you, and you would see her in that situation and you would say, "Madam, you need an interim spousal maintenance application immediately. I'm making you an appointment with my colleague who specialises in family law. "  Wouldn't it?


MS RYAN:  So that all these things could be integrated and responded to immediately. And the outcome could have been different for Client B. 


MS RYAN:  Rather than waiting for the husband to commence child support payments, which may not even be adequate anyway   


MS RYAN:     depending on his income, for her needs and that of her child. One thing I want to ask you about is at the Department of Home Affairs, how are these applications assessed?Are they assessed in different areas or are they centralised?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  So each stream of visas has a different processing team. So there is a family visa processing team, and within that there are subteams for each visa subclass as well. Likewise, there are then protection visa processing teams, student visa, skilled visa. They're all completely siloed and -- 

MS RYAN:  So, again, completely complicated. Very difficult    


MS RYAN:     for a lay person who speaks English, let alone someone from a CALD background to navigate. 


MS RYAN:  Could you tell the Commission about the Domestic Violence and Family Violence Support Service at Home Affairs and the advantages that that has offered and how that came to be created?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  So there's the Domestic and Family Violence Support Section at the Department of Home Affairs. It's a new section that's been created   a new division that's been created. And they   from my understanding of what they've told me, their role was originally to get some feedback from those of us working in the space about what their policies are   what impact their policies are having on the ground, basically. 

So they were saying that they have very little understanding, essentially, of what - their family violence provisions and what that is looking like for clients. They also now have been able to liaise between these different sections of the Department and escalate individual cases. I have had positive outcomes so far with individual clients that I have escalated those cases with them. One of the key things is that, for example, if you have a client who is a secondary visa holder on a skilled visa and the husband is the primary visa holder, she might not have any information about what the visa   the transaction reference number, so any information about her visa. 

So I can't contact the Department with information to request information back if I don't know what her visa situation is. That's in one team. She then might also have lodged an application for a protection visa, which is an entirely separate team. She might also be facing a cancellation of one visa, which is also a separate team then. We might also be waiting for a freedom of information request on something else.  So all these separate teams don't talk to each other, and so having this Domestic and Family Violence Support Service who you can go between all those has been really positive. 

MS RYAN:  In terms of your caseload, how many   what percentage would you say that you accessed the service of that support service?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  Well, since they've   since they've started, I have followed up the majority of my new cases with them. 

MS RYAN:  Thank you. And just finally, can you explain to the Commission:  for women with a disability who come from a CALD background, and for women with disability generally, what would be the ideal system to assist?What would that look like?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  I think   I mean, it's difficult to know. Yeah, I don't have an ideal solution, but I think something that integrates the various different silos that have been set up. I think we often have women presenting who will be put into the “CALD box”, and that's the service that they will have access to. Or they will be put into the “family violence victim box”, or they will be put into the “disability box”, and none of those interact and none of those meet the complex needs that come from falling into all of those. 

So something that can meet all of those needs, whether that's the idea of the one-stop shop where someone can present, someone can have their   their diverse range of needs addressed in one go, rather than being referred out to all of these individual places and needing to retell their story time and time again.  I think that would go a long way, I suppose, in addressing some of those issues. 

MS RYAN:  Thank you. Commissioners. 

COMMISSIONER MASON:  Thank you, Ms Ryan. I am just going to go to the Commissioners to see if they've got any questions. Thank you very much for your evidence. It was really informative. Thank you. I will start with my colleague here in Hobart. Commissioner Bennett, do have you a question?

COMMISSIONER BENNETT:  I just have a few questions. How many cases are you actually talking about in the 12 months that you have been providing this service?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  So when I say cases, it differs between whether they're sort of one-off advices. I will get a lot of women present who might have   yeah, one or two advice sessions. And then they might not require ongoing assistance. But then there will be others that are really substantive ongoing assistance, presentation of that family violence evidence. But over the course of the 12 months   I would have to look back at my data, but it's approximately   it would be over 100 clients. 

COMMISSIONER BENNETT:  Right. Because I was just trying to get a sense of scale, and, in preparation, I had a look at   the only available printed data was Queensland and they had 41 cases in the last 12 months    

MS KETELAAR JONES:  Yeah, okay. 

COMMISSIONER BENNETT:     where they had gone to Immigration on this   it had actually progressed to that point of seeking a protection visa. 


COMMISSIONER BENNETT:  So I was just trying to get a sense of scale. And maybe you can have a look to see how many are actually in that immigration process and come back with   with Home Affairs. The second issue is that my understanding is that if a perpetrator of the violence is found guilty, they could have their visa revoked. 


COMMISSIONER BENNETT:  And, therefore, returned to the country. 


COMMISSIONER BENNETT:  While, if it's successful, the person that was subject to the violence will stay. And that   do you think that's an inhibiter why some women don't come forward, come forward on pursuing the DV provisions that are available?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  So it wouldn't be an inhibiter for pursuing those special provisions in that because those special provisions only apply to partner visa cases, in those situations, the sponsor must be an Australian permanent resident or citizen. So, obviously, if it's an Australian citizen, there's no consequence. If they're an Australian permanent resident, it's fairly unlikely that their permanent residency will be cancelled. 

COMMISSIONER BENNETT:  With skilled visas and things?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  Yes. So if they're on a skilled visa, they can't access those provisions. When it might be an inhibiter for, generally speaking, and what I have found it to be an inhibiter for is women seeking any kind of assistance or advice, because they are very afraid that if they do go to police, you know, his visa will be cancelled and they will both be sent back, or even just that it might affect his visa in some way. 

COMMISSIONER BENNETT:  The question goes   over the last two days, we have heard reasons why, I mean, many women find it difficult to leave situations where there's domestic and intimate partner violence. For women with disability, we've heard that also the perpetrator can also be the carer, and it leaves them very exposed to having no care for a period of time. We've also heard the concerns people have about their children. 

And our last witness talked about the fear of her children within her CALD community. And I'm just trying to get a sense, is that a link to the visa debate and the scale of what we are dealing with, because, you know, if we are talking about changing or having ideas for 20 or 100 women, having a handle on really what the issues are that put them at risk of pursuing domestic violence solutions, it's just still not clear to me. 

I mean, you've mentioned no benefits and no money. Well, maybe that is an issue that needs to be addressed if someone has no financial support. But I'm just trying to actually work out how many women are we talking about in this unique situation, and then what are the levers that prevent them from successfully leaving those violent relationships. 

MS KETELAAR JONES:  Yeah, I think   well, I think, for one, there would be significantly more women in this situation than would present at any of these services because the rates of under-reporting are so high, particularly within that cohort.  Definitely some barriers are that that threat of deportation is one of the main barriers, I think.  It's present in every single one my cases. It's a huge, huge barrier. The power that's held between the   in partner visa cases, the sponsor   generally speaking, the client will believe completely that the sponsor has the power to cancel their visa. So that's a huge inhibiter.  The use of children as well. So    

COMMISSIONER BENNETT:  So for a woman with disability that might be on a partner visa for someone sponsored    so with an Australian partner and they come over, they also don't have access to benefits in the NDIS. The partner would have to meet those medical costs. Is that right?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  Once they have applied for a partner visa they would be able to access Medicare. I am not sure about NDIS. 

COMMISSIONER BENNETT:  And if   is it likely that a partner with disability   do you have an understanding how they might be treated even at the application of the visa?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  Yeah, so that's the other issue as well, is there's also what we call   that there's provisions in the Migration Regulations for health assessments, and so for any   when you apply for any visa, part of the assessment process is that you have to undertake a health and medical examination. For permanent visas, the medical examinations are more extensive, and if you are going to   if they have assessed that you have a condition that will potentially cost the Australian Government over a certain amount   I believe at the moment it's $51,000 over a 10 year period   then your visa can be refused on that basis. So   

COMMISSIONER BENNETT:  So there's a discrimination at that point    


COMMISSIONER BENNETT:     for a person with disability. 


COMMISSIONER BENNETT:  I'm drawing, perhaps, on your more general - and then if you might have a child with a disability and you are a family coming here   

MS KETELAAR JONES:  The same scenario. 

COMMISSIONER BENNETT:     your child could be denied access because of that disability, but you as the parents might be granted, but not your child. 

MS KETELAAR JONES:  Yes, precisely. 

COMMISSIONER BENNETT:  And that's correct under the    

MS KETELAAR JONES:  Yes, that's correct. 


MS KETELAAR JONES:  And also, to clarify, some visa subclasses have what they call a health waiver, so it means that you might be assessed as not meeting the health criteria. For example, what I commonly see   the most common situations that I've had with this clients is clients that have HIV. They will not meet the health criteria for a partner visa. But they can, for partner visas, potentially access a health waiver which means that they waive that requirement, and that's based on   it's a very discretionary assessment. 

Certain other visa subclasses like some skilled visas don't have that health waiver criteria and so if you fail the health criteria, there's no other option. You fail the health criteria. 

COMMISSIONER BENNETT:  And in those cases where it might be a person with disability that's seeking visa to come to Australia or for their child   and you talked about the cost   do you think the benefit of that person is taken into consideration rather than just looking at a medical cost, what they potentially could contribute to the community?

MS KETELAAR JONES:  At the time of the initial assessment, no, it's not.  The option would be then to appeal directly to the Minister. So once you've had that refusal, you might appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. And once you've had that refused, if you are refused, you can appeal   you can lodge what's called a ministerial intervention request and appeal directly to the Minister and present   it's a very   again, a broad range of evidence that you can present, and one of those factors is   you know, the contribution that that person is going to make. And also compassionate and compelling reasons. 


COMMISSIONER MASON: Thank you. I will just go to Commissioner Galbally. Do you have a question? 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Look, all of my questions have been asked, but I wanted to ask thank you for the suggestion of the one-stop shop, and, you know, I wondered if you have   if you have elaborated and thought that through a bit more. And you don't need to add to it now, but if there's any more thinking about that, I would very interested to hear about it. Thank you. 

MS KETELAAR JONES:  I think I would even just add now, one thing that I've found since we've launched this service   and I think it's   we're really fortunate to be in a really small jurisdiction like Tasmania. When we first launched, I made a really intensive effort to travel around Tasmania and visit a lot of the specialist family violence services, visit all of the women's shelters, you know, any other legal services that might be receiving these kind of referrals   sexual assault support services;  that kind of thing   and try to facilitate those referral pathways in the knowledge that people fall through the gaps. 

And so now what we have, I think, is a really good integrated network. So in the absence of that one stop shop, what we have instead is a system where if a client presents at any one of these services, they will immediately be linked into all of these other services and that immediately involves advice on their visa, because often that's the most pressing issue whether someone presents. It's   their visa status is the most pressing issue. So I don't know how to set that up more, yeah, permanently or in bigger jurisdictions as well. Yeah. 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:  That sounds really impressive. It's like a really networked referral service. 





COMMISSIONER MASON:  Ms Ketelaar Jones, that was going to be my question and you've answered it. And that's wonderful, that there is an integrated response, and that's wonderful for women here in Tasmania in this jurisdiction   migrant women. I just want to say thank you on behalf of the Commissioners and the Royal Commission for coming today and giving evidence in a very clear and careful way, and it has been a really informative session. So I want to say thank you. Ms Ryan, is that the end of today's evidence?

MS RYAN:  That's our last witness today. Yes. 

COMMISSIONER MASON:  Yes, thank you. 


COMMISSIONER MASON:  We will now adjourn for today and we will return tomorrow at 10 o'clock. Thank you.