Australia: Royal Commission's recommendations on Domesic Violence - Unlike the Conservative Federal Print E-mail

and NSW State Govts, the Victorian Labor Govt (supported by The Greens) stands committed to fully implement & fund

 Sunday 4 November 2018

'We've only just started': How the parties stack up on family violence

By  Miki Perkins
Rosie Batty's story had a painful circularity.

Her audience, a packed room of domestic violence experts and workers, gathered to hear from the politicians responsible for tackling family violence.

: Family violence campaigner Rosie Batty. (Alex Ellinghausen)

And Batty, the guest speaker, spoke with anguish about children who had been murdered by their fathers.

It wasn't only her beloved Luke she talked about, killed at the age of 11 by his father Greg Anderson almost five years ago. Batty also told the silent audience of a phone call she got on her mobile a few weeks ago.

Uncharacteristically - it was an unknown number - Batty answered the call. At the other end of the line was another Australian woman. It was the mother of two teenagers, both shot by their father in Sydney four months ago, before he turned the gun on himself.

"What is her future now going to be? I did not have the words," she told the audience. "I can't say to her it will be okay. I can't say to her that you will get over this. I can't say to her that every single day when you wake up the first thing you think about is your child that has been murdered."

Batty implored the politicians present at the forum - the Minister for Family Violence, Natalie Hutchins, Liberal spokesperson for family violence Georgie Crozier, and Greens spokesperson Huong Truong - not to back away from the challenges.

"We have invested here. It's unprecedented anywhere else [in the world] because we have the evidence from the royal commission," she said. "Let's get this straight, it has only just started."

The wicked problem

In any election, concrete promises draw attention. New train lines, schools, roads. But the invisible infrastructure is also crucial; the laws that shape our response to thorny social issues.

Family violence remains the primary "law and order" issue in Victoria: police are called to an incident in this state every seven minutes, according to Chief Commissioner Graham  Ashton.

Through a forensic process, the 2015 royal commission produced an exhaustive set of recommendations to tackle the "wicked" problem (as Commissioner Marcia Neave described it).

But cultural change unfolds over years, decades even. The political attention span is much shorter.

But political parties have begun to wake up to the importance of the issues that matter most to women voters, especially those aged between 35 and 49, who have proved prepared to switch their vote on these burning social issues: domestic violence and mental health.

The biggest sticking point
The most significant difference between the two major parties is their approach to the royal commission's recommendations.

 Premier Daniel Andrews and the late Minister for Women Fiona Richardson announce the terms of reference for the Royal Commission, alongside Fiona  McCormack, CEO of Domestic Violence Victoria.(Emma Morgan)
Labor has said, explicitly, it will support and fund them. This government has committed $2.6 billion dollars to family violence (more than any other state or territory, or the federal government). So far, 90 of the recommendations are complete or underway. The Greens also support implementing all the recommendations.

But Liberal family violence spokesperson Georgie Crozier has said they might be a "financial imposte" and she would look for "efficiencies that could be realised".

Asked explicitly at the forum if she would back them, Ms Crozier said she would "work through the detail" if elected, with a focus on safety and supporting victims.

It's a position that frustrates many in the family violence sector, including Domestic Violence Victoria head Fiona McCormack.

"We need to move away from a new approach every term of government. We won't address those family-violence related murders that way," Ms McCormack says.

 Liberal MP, shadow minister for women Georgie Crozier (Jason South)

Mandatory sentences
Both parties have pledged to introduce mandatory sentencing to tackle violent crime.

The Liberals will extend these to family violence - offenders who contravene a family violence order would face a minimum term of two years, and those who persistently breach an order would be locked up for a minimum of three years.

Everyone agrees perpetrators should be held to account, but the Law Council of Australia has consistently opposed mandatory sentencing, saying it places restrictions on judicial discretion, and there is no evidence that it reduces crime.

The risk of women being murdered dramatically increases if their partner or former partner attempts to strangle them. One study found the odds jumped by 800 per cent.

The Liberals have backed a call from Victoria Police to create a new strangulation offense for family violence and sexual offenders, with perpetrators to get a six-year minimum jail term.

Labor hasn't condemned the idea. A spokesperson for Minister Hutchins said the government would have more to say in the coming months.

Queensland has introduced an offense for strangulation, with more than 700 persecutions last year. But it's too early to tell if it has made a substantial difference to the safety of women.

Intervention Orders
The Liberals are backing a police push for powers to serve intervention orders on the spot when called to a family violence incident.

But this raises the issue of misidentification, says Women's Legal Service senior policy lawyer Marianne Jago. Police unfamiliar with the dynamics of family violence can mistake victims who defend themselves as the primary aggressor.

When it reviewed recent files, the Women's Legal Service found almost 60 per cent of clients who were named as the respondents to police intervention orders had been incorrectly identified as the perpetrator.

Lara (not her real name) feels lucky to be alive after 20 years of marriage with a psychologically and physically abusive husband. She left the pre-election forum feeling disappointment and frustration.

All parties should commit to the royal commission's recommendations, Lara says. There is no other place in the world where family violence has been investigated in a similar way so thoroughly.

"Our hope is that people in the community see there are some issues that are so significant that parties come together and politics is put aside."

Miki Perkins is the Social Affairs Editor, and moderated the Unite Against Violence pre-election forum.
 2 November 2018

Four years on, it's impossible to hear Rosie and not want to do something

By Jane Gilmore

Rosie Batty has been talking about men's violence against women for a long time now but time has not diminished her ability to bring a packed room to tears.

Her grief is still palpable, eviscerating, real. So is her determination. Despite the achingly slow changes, despite too many women and children killed and damaged by male violence, she refuses to give up.

She spoke recently at a Unite Against Family Violence forum for politicians with family violence portfolios, saying: "Every day for 5 years I have spoken to someone, advocating for the end of family violence so Luke will not have died in vain."

 Rosie Batty, 2015 Australian of the Year, continues to raise awareness of the problem of domestic violence in Australia.(AP)

It's impossible to listen to her and not be moved and inspired to act. But inspiration is not enough. We need change, real change, in governments, bureaucracies, police forces, courts, schools, universities, sports clubs, media, backyards and dinner tables.

In other words, we need change that happens across the whole of our community. Not just mission statements and diversity training. Real, systemic deep-rooted change that will not come from short-term quick fixes.

At the moment, Victoria is leading the way on the anti-violence-against-women scene in Australia. The Royal Commission into Family Violence was ground-breaking.

It was by no means the first inquiry into family violence, but it was one of the most wide-ranging, and more importantly it was followed up the State's commitment to fulling funding and implementing every one of the commission's 227 recommendations.

Fiona McCormack, CEO of Domestic Violence Victoria, has written about the importance of sticking to the 10 year plan laid down by the Royal Commission and not wasting all the time, effort and expertise that went into the commissions findings.

All Australian state and federal governments have plans and funding for prevention and response to men's violence against women, but none of them come close to matching Victoria's commitment.

The NSW Domestic and Family Violence Blueprint for Reform is funded for $300 million over the next four years. While it might not match the $1.9 billion promised by the Victorian government, it's certainly a huge step further than the minuscule $18.2 from the Federal government.

Money isn't everything, but especially in politics it is an indication of how seriously governments take particular issues. As for example, the federal government allocating $50 million (two and a half times as much as their family violence package) to a memorial for Captain Cook.

Even Victoria cannot guarantee long term commitment to the world class work the state has done so far. The Liberal Opposition wants to "explore efficiencies" in funding the royal commission's recommendations if they win government in November and replace them with polices like Clare's Law and mandatory sentencing, despite both these policies running counter to the royal commission's recommendations.

The NSW Government is also trialling a Clare's Law program and has committed to continuing it for the foreseeable future. Clare's Law is a UK initiative named after Clare Wood, who was strangled and set on fire by her ex-partner, allows people to ask police for information about their partner's previous domestic violence history.

There's no evidence Clare's Law does anything to reduce violence, if anything it can increase pressure on victims and even give abusers further reason to make false allegations against their victims.

We've already seen 57 women killed by violence this year. That's four more than the whole of last year and there's still two months of the year to go. Anger, frustration and fear are rising.

Now is not the time to back away from a cohesive, well-funded, community wide response to men's violence against women.

We need funding for programs that learn from the royal commission and takes an integrated approach. Family violence is not just about crime and police, it also involves heath, education, community services as well as the entire justice system.

We can't arrest our way out of this problem we need to change it at the source as well as at the result, and we need governments and the public to jointly understand and commit to making this a reality.

For every woman and child killed, there are hundreds of thousands still in danger, still suffering abuse and terror.

Party politics, the likes of which was seen at the forum when Victoria's Shadow Minister for Prevention of Family Violence refused to commit to continuing the work of the royal commission, should never get in the way of keeping women and children safe.

As Rosie Batty said at the forum last week, "cut out the word 'family', cut out the word 'domestic' - this is just violence. And let's call it what it is. It's terrorism."

Violence used by one section of the community to intimidate, oppress and control another section is terrorism. It's time Australia responded to the terrorism from inside our community the same way we respond to terrorism from outside it - with full force and absolute commitment to keep everyone safe.