As outlined in the previous chapter, the National Plan was designed to facilitate increased coordination between jurisdictions, and to promote a national approach to the issue of family, domestic and sexual violence (FDSV).
In this chapter, the Committee highlights a number of opportunities for federal, state and territory, and local governments to work more effectively together in their response to FDSV. The chapter also considers evidence on monitoring and evaluation.
The Committee notes that a strong theme in evidence was the fragmentation of the family law system at the federal level and child protection and family violence systems at the state and territory level. This issue was considered in this Committee’s previous inquiry into the family law system, and the Committee expects it will be the subject of further consideration by the current Joint Select Committee on Australia’s Family Law System.
Roles and responsibilities of Australian governments
This section outlines:
the roles and responsibilities of Australian governments in relation to FDSV;
the need for a greater role for local governments; and
funding allocated to FDSV initiatives by Australian governments.
The Australian Government is responsible for the overarching national programs designed to reduce FDSV, including those funded under the National Plan. As noted in Chapter 2, the Department of Social Services has primary policy responsibility for implementing the National Plan.
The Australian Government submission to the inquiry outlines key national initiatives and a number of complementary measures, which include:
investment in primary prevention (including funding for Our Watch, a national centre of excellence for primary prevention);
a national counselling and support service (1800RESPECT);
nationally accredited training for frontline workers (DV-alert);
investment in improving data and evidence (including funding for Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety);
payments and assistance for women who have experienced violence;
responding to violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women; and
improving the family law system and family law services.
The Australian Government also provides funding, including through state and territory governments, for related programs and services, such as housing and legal assistance.
State and territory governments
State and territory governments have primary responsibility for funding frontline services to respond to family and domestic violence, including justice, policing, housing, health, and mental health services.
The Committee received submissions from the governments of the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, the Northern Territory, Queensland, Tasmania, Victoria, and Western Australia, which give a summary of relevant actions and initiatives in each state and territory.
The Committee heard further evidence from representatives of most states and territories at public hearings during the inquiry (see Appendix D).
As the Auditor-General noted in its report on coordination and targeting of domestic violence funding and actions, most state and territory governments have their own plans or strategies separate from the National Plan.
A summary of jurisdictional responsibilities relating to FDSV (reproduced from the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee) is included at Table 3.1.
Table 3.1: Summary of jurisdictional responsibilities for family, domestic and sexual violence
Family law support services
Legal aid commissions
Recent Commonwealth investments, including for men’s support workers
Crisis payments and social security
Justice and policing
Primary prevention programs
Must have local programs
Training and upskilling frontline workers
Primary responsibility and investment
National support services (eg: 1800 RESPECT)
Local collection and initiatives
Research and data
Local collection and initiatives
Primary responsibility for national collection
Source: Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee.
The Committee heard from several local councils and local government representative bodies about the role of local governments in preventing and responding to FDSV.
In its submission, the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) explained that Victoria is the only jurisdiction that places a legislative responsibility on local government in relation to FDSV.
However, regardless of the formal responsibilities placed on councils, ALGA submitted that local governments’ position in the community gives them awareness of the impact of violence and an understanding of which approaches are likely to be effective:
As the closest level of government to the community, councils are uniquely placed to influence and drive social change to reduce domestic, family and sexual violence through existing partnerships, networks and structures. They also engage with people across their life span, from their early years to their senior years and councils interact with, and in some cases provide, children’s and youth services, aged care and disability programs, libraries and community facilities, community groups and providers of support.
Similarly, the Local Government Association of South Australia (LGA of SA) submitted:
The breadth of services and community infrastructure delivered by councils allows an opportunity for activity to prevent violence against women and allow a gender lens to be applied across a wide range of council services and settings, such as health and community services, arts, sports and recreation, education and care settings and public spaces.
ALGA relayed the view of the Local Government Association of the Northern Territory that councils have the largest footprint across regional and remote Australia of any government or organisation:
This proximity to communities in sparsely populated remote regions means that councils interact with some of the most vulnerable and isolated families and in the Territory are pivotal in the protection and safety of vulnerable community members.
Ms Kellie Nagle from the Municipal Association of Victoria gave examples of local government initiatives in Victoria, including the development of an action plan for preventing violence against women in emergencies, training to assist animal management officers to recognise and respond to FDSV incidents, and investments in infrastructure to enable equal participation by women and girls.
Another example was provided in a submission from Darebin City Council, which explained that the Council had been supporting early years educators to promote positive gender norms and practices.
The Committee also heard about the role of maternal and child health services in the early identification of FDSV, which is discussed in Chapter 7, and about the role of local government in responding to natural disasters and emergencies.
The LGA of SA argued that local governments are ‘uniquely placed’ to support local organisations through managing funding and reporting, providing facilities, promoting programs, and brokering relationships.
Ms Nagle from the Municipal Association of Victoria made a similar point:
Councils are uniquely placed to bring partners together as almost a neutral ground and have the infrastructure to support those partnerships.
Our Watch submitted that ‘local governments are well placed to prevent violence against women and their children through their existing roles and services, as well as through partnerships with other organisations in the community’.
Ms Nagle stressed that there are many ‘untapped opportunities’ for councils and there is ‘no single role where councils could not play a part in the prevention of family violence and improving gender equality’:
The time is right now to invest in the next national plan to really recognise what local government can offer, providing a platform of infrastructure that reaches coast to coast across the life course from birth to death, across every setting where people work, learn, play and live. It is really the one piece of infrastructure that hasn't currently been recognised and invested in.
Mr Peter McLinden from the Local Government Association of the Northern Territory said local government in the Northern Territory was ‘probably frustrated’ that it could not have a bigger role in addressing the causes of violence in the community.
This message was echoed in submissions from other organisations, which argued that councils were limited in their ability to do more due to a lack of resources.
Women’s Safety NSW said there is a ‘lack of integration’ between the Australian, state and territory, and local governments in relation to women’s safety policy.
The remainder of this section discussions suggestions put forward to assist local governments to have a greater role in the collective response to FDSV.
Prevention toolkit for local government
The Prevention toolkit for local government was raised in evidence as a resource to assist local governments in their response to FDSV.
The toolkit was an outcome of the Third Action Plan, as part of the Plan’s commitment to ‘co‑design tools and resources with local governments to engage with business, sporting organisations and community groups to promote action against violence’.
The toolkit was developed by Our Watch with the involvement of ALGA and state and territory local government associations. Following a trial at five local government sites across metropolitan and regional areas, the toolkit was launched in 2020.
Our Watch explained that the toolkit includes:
… practical, evidence-based resources, tools and templates to help local governments plan, implement and evaluate initiatives and strategies to prevent violence against women and their children. The toolkit can be used by all local governments across Australia, including those that already have strategies to reduce violence against women, and those that are just beginning to work in this area.
The LGA of SA said the toolkit includes ‘information to help local governments get prepared, set up internal practices, take action and share and improve prevention processes and activities’.
Ms Roslyn Chivers, Executive Director of Policy at ALGA told the Committee that the toolkit is a resource that councils can use to implement ‘low-cost or no-cost initiatives’.
However, a consistent theme in evidence was that, while the toolkit was a good resource, further work was required to assist councils to use it.
Ms Chivers said that ALGA was working with Our Watch and the Department of Social Services to increase awareness and use of the toolkit by councils:
The potential of supporting material such as webinars to assist councils to understand and adopt the toolkit is also being discussed. Support packages and awareness raising will be important in maximising uptake of the toolkit by councils.
However, ALGA also stressed the need for additional funding, pointing out that the councils involved in the trial would not be able to continue their domestic violence initiatives once the funding for the trial had ceased. It noted that the Fourth Action Plan did not include recurrent funding to assist local governments to implement the toolkit:
Without financial assistance, both the trial site councils and [state and territory local government associations] believed that many councils would not be in a financial position to implement the Toolkit.
Ms Nagle from the Municipal Association of Victoria said that while the toolkit was a ‘great initiative’, it would take resourcing to ‘get the ball rolling’.
In its submission, the Municipal Association of Victoria also argued there is an opportunity to further tailor the toolkit to reflect the special role of local government in primary prevention.
Dedicated family and domestic violence policy officers
Another suggestion to assist local governments was for funding to be provided for a dedicated domestic violence policy officer in each state and territory local government association.
While ALGA said that its preference was for funding to be provided to councils directly, it said that having a dedicated officer in each state and territory local government association would be a cost-effective way of assisting all councils to implement preventative domestic violence measures.
Its recommendation was based on the experience of the Municipal Association of Victoria, which has employed a dedicated officer since 2011, funded by the Victorian government. The Local Government Association of Queensland has also employed a domestic violence policy officer in 2020 for one year in a cost sharing agreement with the Queensland Government.
The Committee also heard that in 2019, 32 out of 79 councils in Victoria funded a dedicated officer for the prevention of violence against women.
ALGA suggested that having a dedicated officer in each local government association could assist councils to implement the prevention toolkit for local government (discussed above). It listed a number of other benefits of the position, including:
coordinating and sharing knowledge among councils and other agencies;
connecting council officers working in domestic violence with other councils for peer support and to share learnings; and
providing a single point of contact for local government in every state and territory, which would improve coordination between levels of government, community organisations, and business.
The Municipal Association of Victoria said that without the policy officer in that state, it is unlikely that the progress in Victorian local governments on gender equity and the prevention of violence against women would have been as significant as it had been over the last decade.
The LGA of SA highlighted the Municipal Association of Victoria’s model as an example of good practice in local government leadership.
ALGA and the LGA of SA both recommended that the Australian Government provide funding for a minimum of five years for a dedicated officer in each state and territory local government association, with states and territories to provide supplementary funding to meet specific objectives and priorities in each jurisdiction.
When asked by the Committee, Ms Chivers from ALGA said the cost of a dedicated officer was $120,000, but that it was a ‘game-changer’, particularly for small rural and remote councils.
Having a seat at the table
Lastly, some submitters and witnesses suggested that local government should be involved in the development of policy initiatives, including the next National Plan.
ALGA explained that it had provided updates to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) on domestic violence initiatives, but that it had not yet been advised whether it will be a member of the National Federation Reform Council (NFRC) Taskforce on Women’s Safety.
ALGA argued that local government should have a seat at the table:
As the level of government at the coalface of communities across the nation, ALGA believes that local government should be represented on the Taskforce. This is important to ensure that the voice of Local Government and communities is reflected in policy development and initiatives. All levels of government need to be at the table. Together, the three tiers of government can develop collective solutions to these widespread problems and allow solutions to be tailored to the unique needs of different communities.
Ms Chivers from ALGA told the Committee that local government should be involved in the development of the next National Plan:
Our experience from working across government and across multiple sectors is that we should be at the table when that plan is being developed. We should not be brought in once it's advanced and we should not be engaged in token consultation, which is part of the reason that we think that having a seat at the task force is important.
She went on to say that not having local government involved would be a ‘missed opportunity’:
… we may end up with a national plan that's not nuanced enough to deal with the very complex nature of this issue across all the different people of Australia.
The LGA of SA supported ALGA’s position that local government should be represented on the Taskforce on Women’s Safety.
The Municipal Association of Victoria recommended that local government be included in the next National Plan and any associated plans whenever there is a reference to Australia’s governments, to recognise local government’s lead role in preventing violence against women and its achievements in supporting victim-survivors, working to prevent violence before it occurs, and advancing gender equality.
Investing in preventing and responding to family violence
A strong theme in evidence to the inquiry was that all governments should invest more in preventing and responding to FDSV. Much of the evidence related to particular programs and services, and is discussed in relevant sections of the report.
Ms Hayley Foster from Women’s Safety NSW articulated what she saw as the need for a higher overall level of investment in preventing and responding to FDSV. Referring to the estimated cost of violence against women and their children in Australia, she said:
It is a stark truth that violence against women in this country costs the Australian economy over $23 billion a year and it is the biggest preventable driver of death, disability and illness for half of the population in the prime of their lives, and yet our national plan to address and tackle this problem has only a little over $100 million a year in the tank.
We're not short of answers in tackling this crisis. … We've had inquiry upon inquiry and investigation upon investigation with sound, evidence-based solutions to this crisis. What has held us back is not a lack of knowledge, expertise or evidence or solutions but political will to invest in them.
She called for the next National Plan to include a commitment of $12 billion over 12 years:
… to invest in the evidence-based solutions which will genuinely see a reduction in violence against women and children in this country and…safer, happier, healthier and more fulfilling lives for everyone.
Ms Foster explained that this level of investment was required to address gaps in the FDSV services system:
To provide actual universal access to these critical services, like we do with health and a whole range of other aspects of health issues, and also to invest in a proper cultural change program—Change the story—the things that we need to do will cost us around $1 billion a year. So that's where it's coming from. If we genuinely want to make a change, we need to invest in that. At the end of the day, if we're going to keep asking for some innovative new solution and throwing a few dollars here or there at it, we're always going to skim the surface. We're going to end up here time and time again for decades.
The Committee heard about the significant investment made by the Victorian Government following the report and recommendations of that state’s Royal Commission into Family Violence. For example, Ms Jacqui Watt from No to Violence said that Victoria was ‘spending more money on family violence than the rest of the country put together’.
In its submission to this inquiry, the Victorian Government stated that over the five state budgets to 2019-20, it has invested $2.91 billion ‘to drive family violence reform’. It said a further $557 million in ongoing funding is ‘embedding frontline services and the supporting institutions, processes and programs that are central to the Government’s approach’.
To provide context to this evidence, the Committee was interested in better understanding the level of investment from other Australian governments over a similar time period. The information included below is primarily drawn from submissions to the inquiry. The Committee notes that this information is not exhaustive and is not intended to serve as a comparison between jurisdictions, noting the difficulty of disaggregating funding in areas such as policing, justice, housing, and homelessness.
In its submission, the Australian Government advised it has committed ‘record funding’ of $340 million to implement the priorities of the National Plan’s fourth Action Plan, which runs from 2019 to 2022.
In a 2019 media release announcing funding for the Fourth Action Plan, the then Minister for Families and Social Services said that the investment ‘brings Commonwealth investment in this space since 2013 to over $840 million’.
As discussed in the previous chapter, the Australian Government also invested a further $150 million through the National Partnership Agreement on COVID-19 Domestic and Family Violence Responses, $130 million of which would be provided to states and territories for frontline services. Distribution of these funds is discussed in further detail in the following section.
Asked about state and territory funding commitments, a representative of the Department of Social Services advised the Committee that it is ‘not always transparent’ to the Australian Government what these commitments are.
State and territory contributions to key initiatives under the National Plan, including Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) and Our Watch, are outlined in a supplementary submission from the Department.
In its submission, the ACT Government cited a commitment of $21.42 million over four years under the 2016 ACT Government Response to Family Violence to address family violence and provide additional supports to families, women, and children. This was increased to $24 million over four years in the 2019-20 budget.
The New South Wales Department of Communities and Justice said the government was investing more than $431 million over four years under the NSW Domestic and Family Violence Blueprint for Reform 2016-2021, its whole‑of-government strategy to address family violence.
The Northern Territory Department of Territory Families said that in 2019-20 $29.4 million was allocated to the domestic, family, and sexual violence portfolio as part of the Domestic, Family and Sexual Violence Reduction Framework 2018-2028 - Safe respected and free from violence.
The Queensland Government submitted that it had made a record investment of $328.9 million since 2015-16 through the Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Strategy 2016–2026, which involved delivering all of the 140 recommendations made by the Not Now, Not Ever report in 2015.
In South Australia, the 2018-19 state budget included a $12 million package of measures to address family and domestic violence.
The Tasmanian Government referred to its Safe Homes, Families, Communities: Tasmania's action plan for family and sexual violence 2019-2022, which sets out a $26 million whole-of-government commitment to progress ‘long-term change in the attitudes and behaviours that lead to family and sexual violence and support affected victims and families’.
Western Australia referred to the Stopping Family and Domestic Violence policy, which had resulted in an additional $53 million investment since 2017 into family and domestic violence prevention measures in the state.
Distribution of COVID-19 funding
One issue that arose in evidence to the inquiry was the distribution of the $130 million Australian Government funding to states and territories through the National Partnership Agreement on COVID-19 Domestic and Family Violence Responses (NPA), which was mentioned above and discussed in Chapter 2.
At a public hearing, Ms Jane Lloyd from the Department of Territory Families, Housing and Communities explained that the allocation of the funding to the Northern Territory was $2.462 million.
This figure was confirmed in a supplementary submission from the Department of Social Services, which provided a breakdown of the payments to states and territories under the NPA.
While acknowledging that the funding was appreciated and came with a degree of flexibility that was ‘crucial’, Ms Lloyd said that the largest part of the funding was allocated based on population and not need. She went on:
We would say in some ways that using the population base is not the most useful way to be allocating or thinking about funding.
Related to this issue, referring to Australian Government funding of $63.3 million for frontline legal services to support people impacted by COVID-19, Women's Legal Services Australia and Central Australian Women’s Legal Service said:
Distribution on a per capita basis also adversely impacted specialist women’s services located in remote and regional settings which face additional challenges in reaching vulnerable women.
Ms Liz Hefren-Webb from the Department of Social Services provided background on the decision to distribute the funding based on a per capita basis under the NPA:
The Commonwealth had put forward the proposition that the funding be distributed based on demand. The states and territories were of the view that the patterns of demand under coronavirus were very volatile, rapidly changing and unpredictable. Their view was that it would be better if the funding were distributed on a per capita basis and then they could allocate it based on demand within their jurisdiction. On that basis, the Commonwealth agreed to allocate it on a per capita basis. … in the end there was a view that a demand-driven approach was going to be too complex.
Ms Hefren-Webb went on to outline a number of different ways to measure demand, including contacts with police, the issuing of apprehended violence orders, presentations of FDSV services, and calls to helplines. She said that the states and territories ‘were seeing volatility and lack of clarity in the picture of those different forms of demand’.
However, Ms Hefren-Webb also advised that approximately half of the $130 million funding allocation included ‘some loading to take account of remote and very remote’ classifications.
Opportunities for improved coordination
This section considers some of the suggestions received in evidence for improved coordination in Australian governments’ responses to FDSV.
The Committee notes that other evidence relating to coordination is discussed elsewhere in the report. In particular:
a more coordinated approach to data collection, data reporting, and information sharing is discussed in Chapter 2;
a uniform national definition of FDSV is discussed in Chapter 2;
a more consistent national approach to risk assessment is discussed in Chapter 7; and
improving consistency in approaches to domestic violence orders is discussed in Chapter 8.
Inter-governmental coordination on FDSV occurs through the National Federation Reform Council (NFRC) Taskforce on Women’s Safety, which was established in May 2020 to continue the work of the former COAG Women’s Safety Council.
The Department of Social Services advised that women’s safety ministers would continue to meet regularly while arrangements for the NFRC and the Taskforce were finalised. The terms of reference for the Taskforce were endorsed by the NFRC on 11 December 2020 and the Taskforce held its first meeting on 14 December 2020. The terms of reference for the Taskforce were made available on the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet’s website in early 2021.
The Committee is also aware of other councils, forums, and working groups that have a role in advising and supporting governments in their response to FDSV and related matters, including the Women’s Safety Senior Officials Group and the Council of Attorneys-General Family Violence Working Group.
Effectiveness of current arrangements
In its report on coordination and targeting of domestic violence funding and actions, the Auditor-General found that the roles and responsibilities for the implementation and monitoring of the National Plan are clear and fit-for-purpose for the cross-jurisdictional delivery of the National Plan.
However, evidence to the inquiry indicated significant concern among stakeholders about a lack of effective coordination across jurisdictions in the broader response to FDSV.
For example, Domestic Violence Victoria and the Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria submitted:
… there remains significant fragmentation and lack of clear governance and accountability mechanisms when it comes to cross-jurisdiction decision-making and leadership (both across states and territories, and between the federal and state and territory jurisdictions). There are many examples where the lack of consistency in message, ambiguity of role, and independent attempts at investment have resulted in gaps or conflicts in policy, legislation and system responses.
It went on to argue that ‘a clear authorising environment is critical to the coordination and collaboration efforts across and between states, territories and national departments and portfolios’:
A forum such as the Women’s Safety Council must hold some decision-making powers to enable and promote coordination and be accountable for overseeing a shared and national approach to family violence and violence against women and children.
The Australian Women Against Violence Alliance submitted there is ‘a lack of consistency and coordinated responses to all forms of violence against women and their children across states and territories’:
This is manifested through policy and legislation (for instance, there is a need to harmonise legislation on sexual assaults across states and territories, and to harmonise state and federal child protection measures), working in ‘silos’ and differing levels of investment for prevention and response.
Women’s Safety NSW submitted that ‘policy at the Commonwealth and state and territory level continues to be disjointed, with limited integration’:
Often, Commonwealth and state and territory responsibility is blurred, and there is confusion surrounding who is responsible for what. The Commonwealth government often references the responsibility of the states and territories in delivering services, yet is itself responsible for resourcing the National Plan and has a range of partnership agreements with state and territory governments in relation to the specific delivery of services … whilst also directly funding and administering a range of services … Further, there is the overlap between Commonwealth service agencies, such as Centrelink, the Child Support Agency, Medicare, and the Federal Courts, state and territory funded service agencies, such as health, child protection, housing, justice (police, courts and corrective services), and education and training, and the range of non-government services which make up the domestic and family violence support system.
It also said that federally funded programs are not properly integrated with state and territory-based programs, ‘essentially creating gaps, inconsistency and duplication’.
Our Watch emphasised the importance of coordinated actions and approaches across all prevention activities, but said that more work needed to be done:
… the last ten years has seen the establishment of some mechanisms to support coordination across different levels of government, designed to ensure consistency between legislative and policy reforms, programs, communications, campaigns and other prevention efforts. These are encouraging signs of steps towards building this element of prevention infrastructure. However, there is more work required to ensure that these mechanisms are able to coordinate and manage the complex work of undertaking the multi-level staged systems reforms required for the sustained, long-term prevention of violence against women.
Ms Kim Henderson from Our Watch elaborated on this point:
We've certainly got a more coordinated approach than when the national plan was developed and then when Our Watch was established, but we really need to build on that because we know that the Commonwealth government is responsible for many areas of policy that are critical for primary prevention, and so are the states and territories. That's across jurisdictions. So we really need a genuine national coordinated approach and a coordinating mechanism.
Domestic Violence Victoria and the Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria also stressed the importance of coordination and collaboration across prevention activities:
Governance mechanisms must include partnerships to ‘join the dots’ between state or territory-based prevention activities, and connection points to national initiatives. These must also include opportunities for civil society organisations working in prevention to inform and participate in policy development and coordination processes.
Proposals to improve coordination
Several organisations argued for increased involvement of victim-survivors and specialist service providers in coordination mechanisms. For example, the Australian Women Against Violence Alliance submitted:
Stronger structures for coordination, including through the National Plan, need to be developed with transparency and inclusion of victim/survivors, civil society and specialist women’s services service providers.
It argued that ‘meaningful and ongoing consultation and engagement with the civil society’ should be embedded in the work of the Women’s Safety Council (now the NFRC Taskforce on Women’s Safety). It also said that governments supporting specialist women’s services involved not only providing adequate funding but also supporting meaningful structures to enable coordination across jurisdictions.
Our Watch also recommended ‘increased formal, funded and transparent’ opportunities for effective civil society engagement in policy, including in the development of the next National Plan.
Other suggestions were received to improve coordination in the context of the next National Plan. For example, ANROWS argued that ‘coordination across states and territories would be enhanced by the forthcoming National Plan having a clear focus on accountability for each jurisdiction’, in addition to measurable goals.
Respect Victoria said the next National Plan should ‘ensure shared identification of priorities across and within jurisdictions, and the identification of a small number of specific priorities for intensive cross-jurisdictional effort over each three-four year implementation period’.
No to Violence recommended that the next National Plan be established under the Intergovernmental Agreement on Federal Financial Relations, which it believed would assist in ensuring consistency in responses across jurisdictions. At a public hearing, Mr Russell Hooper from No to Violence expanded on the rationale for this recommendation:
What it will do is create a conversation specifically around what is required to respond to family violence in every jurisdiction. That is a conversation that hasn't been had because each jurisdiction is doing things differently.
… the states and territories do their own thing, and the national plan has very limited influence in the way things are happening on the ground. So we think a coordinated approach where people define their patch will be useful in producing that accountability and hopefully increasing service provision.
Ms Amy Prendergast from Respect Victoria also said that binding financial agreements could form part of a stronger governance framework:
Currently, there's a lot of goodwill around the national plan, but there's not a means to ensure that there's accountability and ongoing investment, particularly in primary prevention across the board. While it continues to be piecemeal and patchy, as the Victorian royal commission found, we're not going to see a change in outcomes.
Ms Kate Jenkins, the Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner, recommended that the National Cabinet establish an advisory panel on gender equity, in addition to retaining the Taskforce on Women’s Safety:
Such a panel would feed expert voices on women's safety and economic security to government and create efficiencies and avoid duplication of efforts between jurisdictions.
The Australian Human Rights Commission went into further detail in its submission:
Several states and territories have run inquiries into family and domestic violence, often following local tragedies. The Advisory Panel would be an effective tool to ensure that lessons learned in one inquiry are shared with all jurisdictions, and that responses are aligned. For instance, the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence, finalised in 2016, has many useful recommendations which could be progressed in all jurisdictions.
Some submitters referred to the Victorian Government’s efforts to address the fragmentation identified by the Royal Commission into Family Violence, and said that lessons from that experience could inform efforts at the national level. For example, Domestic Violence Victoria and the Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria explained:
The Royal Commission into Family Violence (RCFV) found that despite clear policy intent, responsibility for family violence remained fragmented and diffused across government departments and agencies. It also identified that the lack of accountability, oversight and shared goals led to gaps in policy and investment. These key lessons have since influenced Victoria’s revitalised efforts to design and implement a coordinated and consistent system response to family violence.
Reform at this level requires significant whole-of-government planning and expert project management, taking into consideration sequencing of activities, coordination of implementation, and ongoing risk management. It also requires a willingness to adapt to the emerging environment, ability to take on feedback and advice from experts (including victim-survivors and advocates), capacity to implement recommendations from evaluation findings to modify course and acceptance of responsibility when mistakes have been made.
In its submission, the Victorian Government stressed the importance of an integrated approach:
Family violence is often complicated by multiple socioeconomic issues such as involvement with the justice system, housing insecurity, financial pressures, substance abuse and other health comorbidities. An integrated services response is crucial to ensure problems are not siloed, particularly where risk-relevant information that could inform risk assessments is located across jurisdictions, and under different legislative frameworks and service systems.
A number of witnesses were asked about the merits of establishing a national commissioner for FDSV, which could have as one of its responsibilities improving coordination and consistency. This evidence is discussed later in this chapter.
Monitoring and evaluation
This section considers evidence on the monitoring and evaluation of the National Plan and its constituent actions plans, followed by evidence on the monitoring and evaluation of individual FDSV programs and services.
The Committee notes that other evidence relating to evaluation is discussed elsewhere in the report. In particular on:
evaluation of programs relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is discussed in Chapter 5;
evaluation of primary prevention initiatives is discussed in Chapter 6; and
evaluation of perpetrator interventions is discussed in Chapter 7.
Monitoring and evaluation of the National Plan
Findings of the Auditor-General’s report
In its report on coordination and targeting of domestic violence funding and actions, the Auditor-General considered whether monitoring and reporting of performance for the National Plan was effective.
The Auditor-General noted that the Department of Social Services is the lead Australian Government entity responsible for monitoring implementation of the National Plan, and found that ‘appropriate administrative arrangements’ were in place to monitor progress against the Australian Government’s commitments under the plan.
With respect to evaluation, the Auditor-General noted that the National Plan specifies that an evaluation would be conducted at the conclusion of each three-year Action Plan, and that a report would be produced at the end of the life of the plan to review its achievements and set future policy directions.
It also noted that an evaluation plan was agreed by women’s safety ministers and was released in June 2014, coinciding with the release of the Second Action Plan.
However, the Auditor-General found that while the evaluations of the second and third actions plans had been completed or were planned, these did ‘not sufficiently focus on assessing the achievement of outcomes’. The Auditor-General highlighted a lack of data to support evaluations:
The Third Action Plan evaluation methodology proposes assessing the contribution of this plan to the National Plan outcomes, but without robust data, is unlikely to achieve this purpose.
The quality of data and assessment of the impacts of actions undertaken across jurisdictions need to be improved to support outcome-focused action plan evaluations. Without these improvements, the overall achievements of the National Plan will not be able to be fully assessed.
The Auditor-General also found that annual progress reporting did ‘not provide a sufficient level of information for public transparency and accountability’.
The Auditor-General’s recommendations included that the Department of Social Services work with states and territories to plan evaluations of individual services and programs to inform an outcome evaluation of the Fourth Action Plan, and that public annual progress reports for the Plan document the status of each action item and the outcomes of the National Plan as a whole. The Department agreed to the recommendations.
Australian Government evaluation
In evidence to the present inquiry, the Department of Social Services advised that a ‘comprehensive’ evaluation of the National Plan, incorporating the Fourth Action Plan, was in development, and that:
To support this evaluation, a performance monitoring and reporting framework is being developed, in consultation with state and territory governments.
Representatives of the Department advised that KMPG had been engaged to undertake the evaluation, with an interim report due in the second half of 2021.
They also advised that the government evaluated individual programs funded under the National Plan—including national initiatives such as Our Watch and DV-alert—and that some trials and pilot projects had been discontinued.
Ms Liz Hefren-Webb from the Department said that the complex nature of the National Plan—with ‘multiple activities across multiple levels of government’—made evaluation ‘quite tricky’. She then went on to elaborate on some of the challenges involved in evaluation more generally:
I think, over all, evaluation is the thing that is sometimes a bit of an afterthought. It doesn't always necessarily factor into our thinking as much as it should. It's a complex area. You're doing interviews with very vulnerable people. There are a lot of ethics considerations about interviewing people, talking about this very difficult traumatising, sensitive moment in their life. So, it's not an easy area to evaluate but I agree with you: we could be doing better.
Proposals to improve evaluation
Evidence from other stakeholders highlighted concerns about evaluation processes included in the first National Plan, and included suggestions for more rigorous monitoring and evaluation in the next National Plan.
The Australian Women Against Violence Alliance (AWAVA) said that it was concerned about the lack of broader consultation and feedback on the National Plan. As an example, it noted that the evaluation of the Second Action Plan was released six months after the Third Action Plan commenced.
Women’s Safety NSW said that evaluations of the action plans had not been undertaken or not published, and that there were limited opportunities for open and transparent feedback on the plan from the community.
Women’s Safety NSW also referred to an evaluation of the Third Action Plan by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS). In outlining the challenges and limitations of the evaluation, the AIFS noted:
the absence of a central, comprehensive source of information about what actions have been implemented;
challenges in assessing which activities or outcomes were attributable to the Third Action Plan and which were part of broader responses to violence against women and their children;
limited opportunities to assess whether the program of work under the Third Action Plan is making a concrete contribution to the National Plan’s measures of success or indicators of change; and
a lack of available or relevant outcomes data pertaining to individual actions or programs undertaken under the Third Action Plan, which hindered assessment of the effectiveness of specific actions or priority areas as a whole.
AWAVA argued there was a need for a robust monitoring and evaluation system to be embedded in the next National Plan:
A robust monitoring and evaluation mechanism must be in place to allow for the impact of activities under the National Plan to be measured, gaps to be assessed and performance to be improved for greater future results.
AWAVA said that evaluation should be transparent, accountable, and consultative with ‘ongoing provisions for the incorporation of civil society, experts, victim/survivors and peak bodies’. It also recommended provision for the evaluation of all initiatives funded under the plan, with this ideally being built in to program design.
Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand recommended the establishment of an ‘independent multi-sectoral monitoring and evaluation mechanism, which incorporates accountability and governance—and which is focused on outcomes’. It suggested the mechanism should aim to:
improve consistency of data;
assess the performance of the FDSV system as a whole; and
provide a mechanism for monitoring and evaluation to be informed by input from victim-survivors.
In discussing the recommendation for a for-purpose monitoring and evaluation body, Dr Madeleine Ulbrick from Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand stressed the importance of monitoring and evaluation occurring in an ongoing way to enable continuous improvement, and it being done with an understanding of the complexity of FDSV.
Respect Victoria submitted that the next National Plan should ‘include and require robust monitoring, evaluation, learning systems and data sharing agreements between jurisdictions in a comprehensive framework to support and drive uptake of evidence-based programming and activity’.
The Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre said that data generated though research and evaluation is ‘largely siloed, archived on a project by project basis, and has not been coordinated or collated in any centralised way’.
It argued for a coordinated and systemic approach to data collection, which would ensure ‘that the impacts of the government’s commitment in this space can be accurately measured’:
The Australian Government must invest in building and coordinating the data necessary to monitor, measure and evaluate the impact of national and state level reforms in practice. The next national plan provides an opportunity to [do] this.
Further evidence on data collection is discussed in Chapter 2.
Evaluation of programs and services
A number of witnesses and submitters expressed concern about current funding arrangements for the evaluation of individual programs and services, which they said were insufficient, piecemeal, or short term.
Dr Jonathon Louth from the University of South Australia and Centacare Catholic Family Services told the Committee:
What you'll often find is that within the tender process for organisations is that there isn't a significant allocation for evaluation. One of the most significant blockages you'll get is that sector wide, whether it's state, territory or federal government, there's a push for evaluation and understanding that evaluation needs to be done without appropriately funding it.
Dr Louth stressed that evaluation should be done both quantitatively and qualitatively, and that evaluation requires talking and listening, which takes time and therefore needs to be accounted for in a program’s funding.
Similarly, Ms Renata Field from Domestic Violence NSW said:
First and foremost, I think most of the gaps around evaluation occur because there is simply not enough funding. And the funding for the evaluation needs to be built in from the very beginning.
Ms Field also noted that funding from different sources can be linked to different reporting and evaluation requirements.
Speaking about prevention programs and activities, Domestic Violence Victoria and the Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria argued that a ‘piecemeal approach to program funding continues to constrain our evidence-building capacity’:
… opportunities to successfully embed prevention activities are limited and result in predominately narrowly-focused evaluations which have limited ability to contribute to longer-term impact evaluation.
The organisations also explained that there is limited support available to assist professionals and organisations to undertake robust project and impact evaluations.
Women’s Safety NSW submitted that there are limited published evaluations on women’s safety initiatives, and those that are published are often not conducted by an independent body.
Relationships Australia highlighted what it described as an ‘over-reliance’ on short-term trials and pilot programs. Among other concerns with this approach, it noted that evaluation is limited to a short period:
… which substantially diminishes the potential for sound data to be collected and evaluated to establish whether the piloted service was, or could with more time or modifications or both, be effective.
A similar point was made by Dr Naomi Pfitzner from the Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre:
I think in terms of gender equality interventions and primary preventions , the evidence base in Australia is unfortunately quite underdeveloped, and often these pilot programs are only funded for a very short period of time. That means that we're limited in the evidence that we can draw from those programs, particularly I think in terms of changing attitudes and behaviour over the long term. We need to resource evaluations to track behaviour and attitude change beyond just the length of the program…
Relationships Australia submitted that ‘even positively evaluated and successful pilots are discontinued’. The Committee heard similar concerns from other witnesses about pilot programs not receiving further funding to scale up despite having a positive evaluation.
Ms Karen Bentley from the Women’s Services Network (WESNET), the national peak body for specialist women's family and domestic violence services, suggested that evaluations are often not published, making it difficult to determine whether new approaches are effective:
We can have multiple pilots and interventions and things like that, but we must understand whether they're effective before we pour more money into them.
Representatives of Domestic Violence NSW said that consistent national standards for family and domestic violence services would assist in ensuring that evaluation was done consistently across different projects:
… it would be really good as part of this work if we consider accredited standards for our sector so that we can deliver high quality services and that we are unified and coordinated in that. Then I think that will help better inform evaluation.
They also said that victim-survivors should be included in the evaluation process.
Speaking about behaviour change programs, Mr Nicholas Glauser from Mens Outreach Service Aboriginal Corporation, said there was no agreed measure of success across the sector:
One of the barriers that we run into is that people want that evidence, obviously, to fund us. That's one of the major barriers that we have: if you ask for evidence but there is actually no recognised way to provide that evidence.
Dr Heather Nancarrow, Chief Executive Officer of ANROWS, described the adverse impact of short-term funding for research on understanding ‘what works’:
… it's very difficult to design a program of research, particularly when we're trying to understand, for example, the efficacy of men's behaviour change programs. In order to do that sort of work, you need a long-term commitment of funding.
Dr Nancarrow explained that to date ANROWS has been required to design and deliver its research program based on relatively short (between two and four year) funding cycles. She underscored the need for funding certainty over a longer period to support more rigorous research:
… if you're wanting to look at rigorous research that can quantify what works in what circumstances, you certainly can't be delivering a program within a 15-month period or even a three-year period. ANROWS needs to be established with long-term, continuing funding—obviously subject to satisfactory performance. But there should be a degree of continuity so that it's not time frames that are driving the research design and the methodology and so on. Rather, they should be driven by the nature of the problem that we're trying to address and what methodology is required to get a rigorous result from research to inform policy and practice.
Djirra, an Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation, recommended ‘Aboriginal-led evaluation’ for programs and services in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. This is discussed in further detail in Chapter 5.
Other evidence highlighted the importance of having more consistent data collection to support monitoring and evaluation. For example, the Australian Institute and Health and Welfare submitted:
In the long term, improved data on FDSV in administrative data sets, and greater data linkage will support further policy development and service monitoring and evaluation…
ANROWS said there is ‘an urgent need for better evaluation data to assess the effectiveness of current service responses and prevention activities’:
That is, all program funding must include a standard evaluation component to enable future systematic reviews to identify “what works”.
A national commissioner for family, domestic and sexual violence
As noted above, a number of witnesses were asked about the merits of establishing a national commissioner for FDSV, which could spearhead improved coordination and consistency across jurisdictions, and enhance monitoring and evaluation.
Associate Professor Kate Fitz-Gibbon from the Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre said the establishment of a national commissioner could be an indication of the seriousness with which Australia takes family violence. However, she said the ‘key to making any position like that effective would be to ensure that it is resourced to support a whole-of-system response’:
Certainly, no one person is going to be able to achieve this, no matter their title. What sits below that position will be absolutely key to the effectiveness of it.
Ms Watt from No to Violence said a commissioner ‘needs to have a bit of teeth’:
We think it needs to have a bit of teeth if it's going to really have merit around measuring improvements and being able to report annually to the government on data, on what's actually being done here. … if a national commissioner could really set some benchmarks, set some targets for improvement and make sure that is considered in the context of full family safety, we would welcome that and we would want that.
Mr Hooper also from No to Violence suggested a commissioner could oversee collection of funding information and other data, similar to what the Productivity Commission provides in its annual Report on Government Services, which he said was ‘critical’ in other social sectors.
While noting that it was a matter for government, a representative of the Attorney-General’s Department said it would be important for any national commissioner not to duplicate or interfere with any existing coordination mechanisms.
The Committee had the benefit of seeking views on the concept of a national commissioner from two officials in broadly comparable roles: the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Ms Kate Jenkins; and the Chief Executive Officer of the National Mental Health Commission and National Suicide Prevention Adviser to the Prime Minister, Ms Christine Morgan.
Ms Jenkins said that coordination had been a challenge in the first National Plan, and agreed that it was worth considering a mechanism such as national commissioner in the next National Plan to reduce fragmentation and improve coordination across the sector. She said that in her position she received ‘incredible cooperation and coordination’.
Ms Morgan said that the benefit of the position of National Suicide Prevention Adviser to the Prime Minister was creating the opportunity to consider suicide prevention from a whole-of-government perspective, separate to the broader issue of mental health:
It enables and legitimises a much more nuanced conversation and opportunity for review and reflection on recommendations when issues can be identified. Similarly to narrowing in on specific vulnerable groups in suicide such as veterans and serving defence personnel, there is benefit in looking at specific issues and specific cohorts.
She said there was benefit in putting a ‘specific lens’ on issues such as FDSV which she said cross over ‘so many different portfolios and lever points of government’.
When asked by the Committee, Ms Louise York from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare agreed that a national commissioner could have a useful role in collecting and reviewing information and advocating on behalf of victim-survivors. She said this could be similar to the work of the National Children’s Commissioner and state and territory children’s commissioners.
Others suggested alternatives to a commissioner. For example, Ms Tania Farha from Domestic Violence Victoria and the Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria said there was value in having an ‘independent voice’ on the prevention and response to family and domestic violence. However, in a supplementary submission, her organisation recommended that, rather than establishing a new commissioner, ‘the remit of the existing Commissioners within the Australian Human Rights Commission all explicitly include monitoring family, domestic and sexual violence’.
Ms Hayley Foster from Women’s Safety NSW said she thought there would be more support in the sector for a national peak body, rather than a commissioner, and that a peak body would be a more effective accountability measure:
If you have a national peak it's going to be independent and it's going to be grassroots. You'll never have a worry about it being independent, about having a captain's pick from government just sort of keeping everything kind of under wraps and being a bit lacklustre. You're never going to have that because you will have domestic violence agencies, thousands of them across the country, being held to account, to be honest about the real issues.
In its submission, Women’s Safety NSW recommended that the Australian Government, in partnership with states and territories, establish a representative, member-based national peak body for women’s safety ‘so as to support the best possible policy and law reform and accountability for progress’ at the federal level.
The Committee is also aware of existing bodies at the state and territory level that could inform consideration of a possible national commissioner—in particular, the Family Violence Reform Implementation Monitor in Victoria and the Coordinator-General for Family Safety in the ACT. These are discussed briefly below.
Victorian Family Violence Reform Implementation Monitor
The Family Violence Reform Implementation Monitor (FVRIM) was formally established in 2017 as an independent statutory officer of the Victorian Parliament following the release of the report of the Royal Commission into Family Violence in 2016.
The FVRIM is responsible for monitoring and reviewing how effective the Victorian Government and its agencies are in implementing Victoria’s Ending Family Violence – Victoria’s Plan for Change reform program, a 10-year plan encompassing the Royal Commission’s 227 recommendations, along with outcomes, and initial targets.
The FVRIM is required to table an annual report to the Victorian Parliament on the progress of the reforms each year from 2017 to 2020.
In performing its role, the FVRIM uses information gathered from consultations with government agency staff, consultations with community groups and victim-survivor support groups, attendance at key governance and advisory committee meetings, and a review of documentation from implementation agencies and government bodies.
The submission from the Victorian Government also referred to other accountability measures, including: the Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council, which enables people with lived experiences of violence to contribute to family violence reform; and the Dhelk Dja Partnership Forum, which brings together Aboriginal community leaders and Victorian Government partners.
ACT Coordinator-General for Family Safety
The ACT Coordinator-General for Family Safety is a non-statutory position established in 2016 to provide strategic leadership and drive whole-of-government collaboration and coordination for the ACT response to family and domestic violence.
The Coordinator-General is supported by the Office of the Coordinator-General for Family Safety, which is part of the ACT Community Services Directorate, and reports to the Minister for the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence.
In its submission, the ACT Government explained that the Coordinator-General’s work includes:
creating and fostering relationships and collaboration between government, non-government and business sectors to improve how support services and systems are delivered;
bringing people together to identify and test new responses;
providing strategic policy analysis and advice;
overseeing the development, coordination, implementation and reporting of government responses to relevant recommendations, strategies, inquiries and plans; and
driving cultural and attitudinal change.
At a public hearing, the current Coordinator-General, Ms Kirsty Windeyer, told the Committee that various aspects of her role could be translated to an equivalent model at the national level. She said there was a leadership component to her role:
… to ensure that the different aspects, services and agencies who are involved in or touch domestic and family violence …coordinate and talk to each other and we are leading and moving towards a more integrated response.
Ms Windeyer also explained that her work involves reviewing data and evidence (including from other jurisdictions) to identify emerging issues and best-practice responses:
An example of that in the ACT is that at the moment some other jurisdictions have models, like Victoria, where they have The Orange Door model and the collocation of agencies. The advantage we have in the ACT is that we can look at that, we can look at the evaluations coming out of those models, see whether or not it really is making a difference to people who are experiencing violence…
It is clear to the Committee that governments across Australia have made significant progress in the past decade in working together more effectively in their collective response to FDSV.
But the strong message in evidence to the inquiry is that coordination is still lacking in many areas, resulting in missed opportunities to prevent and respond to violence, duplicative or contradictory approaches, and ultimately worse outcomes for victim-survivors.
Preventing and responding to FDSV requires a response across all levels of government.
The Committee acknowledges the significant role that local government has had to date in this effort. However, local government associations were clear and unanimous in advocating that, with appropriate support, councils are willing and able to have a more active role.
The Committee shares the view there is potential for much greater involvement of local government, particularly in prevention and early intervention initiatives, and also notes the reach that local government has into regional, rural, and remote communities, which are not always well served by other service providers.
The Committee’s view is that local government should be represented on the National Federation Reform Council Taskforce on Women’s Safety, and that local government should have a seat at the table in the development and implementation of the next National Plan.
The Committee also accepts that councils need to be supported to have a more active role. The Committee considers that funding for a dedicated family and domestic violence policy officer in every state and territory local government association is a cost-effective measure that will assist all councils to implement new initiatives to prevent and respond to violence. Further work should also be done to determine what other resources, including additional funding, should be provided to assist councils.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government seek the agreement of state and territory governments to make a representative of the Australian Local Government Association a member of the National Federation Reform Council Taskforce on Women’s Safety.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government and state and territory governments directly involve local government in the development and implementation of the next National Plan. If not achieved through the Australian Local Government Association’s (ALGA) membership on the National Federation Reform Council Taskforce on Women’s Safety, another appropriate mechanism should be utilised to facilitate ALGA’s engagement.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government and each state and territory government co-fund on a 50-50 basis a dedicated family and domestic violence policy officer in each state and territory local government association for an initial period of five years.
In addition, the Australian Government and state and territory governments should work with the Australian Local Government Association to consider whether additional resources are required to assist individual local governments to have a more active role in preventing and responding to family, domestic and sexual violence, and to implement the Prevention toolkit for local government.
The Committee recognises the significant level of expenditure by all Australian governments on preventing and responding to FDSV. The Committee also acknowledges the view of some stakeholders that current funding levels are not commensurate to the task.
In considering the issue of funding, the Committee was particularly interested in the experience in Victoria, where the Victorian Government has invested $2.91 billion over the five years to 2019-20 to implement the 227 recommendations of the Royal Commission into Family Violence.
The Committee acknowledges that the reforms in Victoria are still underway, and it also acknowledges that reducing the prevalence of FDSV will not happen overnight. The Committee also notes evidence that the Victorian Government’s commitment is beginning to result in better and more services being available to victim-survivors.
However, the Committee considers that investment in preventing and responding to FDSV should be clearly linked to outcomes, and in particular a reduction in the prevalence of FDSV. Governments’ progress should not simply be measured by money spent.
In this regard, evidence from Victoria about the effectiveness of investment in reducing rates of FDSV will be critical in informing future funding decisions by all Australian governments.
The Committee is concerned that state and territory government expenditure is not always visible to the Australian Government, and that funding across jurisdictions may not be sufficiently aligned. The Committee is also concerned to see greater transparency and accountability with respect to government expenditure.
Evidence to this inquiry has included suggestions for binding financial agreements for the establishment of the next National Plan under the Intergovernmental Agreement on Federal Financial Relations. The Committee is not convinced of the merits of these suggestions, but does accept the principle that improved coordination and accountability can be achieved through clearer funding arrangements between the Australian Government and state and territory governments.
To this end, the Committee recommends that funding provided by the Australian Government to states and territories be linked to a requirement for those governments to provide greater transparency about their own expenditure on related programs and services.
Furthermore, state and territory governments should be required to fund programs within their own jurisdictions on an agreed minimum ratio basis of any funding provided by the Australian Government.
In addition, the Committee is concerned to see that government expenditure is directed to where there is the most need. When providing funding for programs and services, the Australian Government should not look to simply allocate these funds to states and territories on a per capita basis. This approach fails to take into account the relatively high prevalence of FDSV in particular jurisdictions such as the Northern Territory.
Instead, it is the Committee’s view that a needs-based funding methodology should be developed to account for differences in the nature and prevalence of FDSV in different communities across Australia.
The Committee recommends that the next National Plan include a commitment to improve the transparency of funding for family, domestic and sexual violence programs and services.
The Committee further recommends that Australian Government funding provided to state and territory governments for family, domestic and sexual violence programs and services be linked to requirements that those governments:
fund related programs and services within their own jurisdictions on an agreed minimum ratio basis of the funding provided by the Australian Government; and
report regularly on their own funding for related programs and services.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government, in consultation with state and territory governments, develop a needs-based funding methodology to account for variations in the presentation of family, domestic and sexual violence in different jurisdictions.
This methodology should be applied to future Australian Government and state and territory governments’ funding for family, domestic and sexual violence programs.
Monitoring and evaluation
The Committee notes the concerns raised by the Auditor-General in 2019 with respect to performance monitoring, evaluation, and reporting for the National Plan.
Based on evidence to this inquiry, the Committee is not satisfied that enough has been done since the release of the Auditor-General’s report to address these concerns. It is evident to the Committee that there has been a lack of rigorous policy and program evaluation throughout the life of the National Plan.
It is also clear that, despite some progress, there is not yet a systematic approach and a sufficient commitment from all governments to building the evidence base about what works, what does not, and why. Nor is there an agreed set of outcomes or standards that would ensure that evaluations are done consistently across different programs and services.
Furthermore, a strong message in this inquiry has been the piecemeal approach to the evaluation of individual programs and services—often due to a lack of dedicated program funding for evaluation—and a lack of any systematic approach to the use of trials and pilot programs.
As all governments continue to invest in measures to prevent and respond to FDSV, it is critical that this investment is subject to rigorous monitoring and evaluation.
The next National Plan should include a strong commitment from the outset to an ongoing program of independent and transparent monitoring and evaluation of policies and programs, with more formal opportunities for victim-survivors and other non-government stakeholders to provide input. The Committee considers that oversight of this process should be one of the functions of a proposed national commissioner, which is discussed below.
The next National Plan should also include a commitment to fund Australia's National Research Organisation for Women's Safety (ANROWS) for the life of the plan, to ensure that it can carry out rigorous long-term research to build the evidence base about what works, which can subsequently inform better policy and practice.
In addition, it is the Committee’s view that all Australian Government funding for FDSV programs and services should be linked to a requirement for a standardised evaluation to be conducted. Evaluations should be published wherever possible to inform future initiatives.
Finally, the Committee encourages the Australian Government to consider the need for additional measures to facilitate a more thorough and more consistent approach to evaluation, such as the development of accredited standards or outcomes measures, and the provision of additional support and training.
The Committee recommends that the next National Plan include a commitment to an ongoing program of independent and transparent monitoring and evaluation, which:
includes formal opportunities for victim-survivors and other non-government stakeholders to provide input; and
is overseen by the proposed National Commissioner for the prevention of family, domestic and sexual violence, or another independent body.
The Committee recommends that the next National Plan include a commitment to provide funding for Australia's National Research Organisation for Women's Safety for the life of the plan.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government ensure that specific family, domestic and sexual violence programs funded either directly or indirectly by the Australian Government include funding for a standardised evaluation component. Evaluations should be published where possible.
Further, the Committee recommends that the Australian Government, in consultation with state and territory governments, consider the need for:
the development of accredited standards or agreed outcomes measures to guide evaluations of family, domestic and sexual violence programs and services;
additional support and training to assist organisations in undertaking evaluations; and
a national platform for the publication of evaluations.
A national commissioner for family, domestic and sexual violence
As the evidence to this inquiry has demonstrated, a comprehensive response to FDSV requires coordination and integration across different jurisdictions, portfolios, legislative frameworks and service systems.
While the recommendations made in this chapter seek to address aspects of governance, coordination, and monitoring and evaluation, the Committee is concerned that responsibility for FDSV will remain fragmented.
A new approach is needed to ensure there is a whole-of-government, cross-jurisdictional response to FDSV.
A strong, independent voice is needed to hold all levels of government to account and ensure that through the National Plan they remain focused on the task of reducing violence in our community.
While acknowledging the view of some stakeholders that a new national peak body or another existing structure could perform these functions, the Committee recommends that a new independent statutory office—a national commissioner for the prevention of family, domestic and sexual violence—be established to fulfil this role.
A number of models have guided the Committee’s thinking on the scope and functions of such a national commissioner. At the federal level, these include the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, the National Suicide Prevention Adviser to the Prime Minister, and the eSafety Commissioner. At state and territory level, they include the Victorian Family Violence Reform Implementation Monitor and the ACT Coordinator-General for Family Safety.
It is the Committee’s expectation that a national commissioner will have clearly defined responsibilities in relation to policy development, research, data collection, and monitoring and evaluation, and will provide independent monitoring and evaluation of the next National Plan. Importantly, the commissioner should provide a formal mechanism for victim-survivors and non-government organisations to have input in this work.
The Committee also recommends that the national commissioner be an observer member of the National Federation Reform Council Taskforce on Women’s Safety, in order to promote and enhance coordination across jurisdictions. It is important for the national commissioner to observe how the next National Plan is developed and implemented, while maintaining sufficient separation from the formal decision-making process to provide independent monitoring and evaluation of the Plan.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government establish as an independent statutory office a National Commissioner for the prevention of family, domestic and sexual violence.
The functions of the Commissioner should include promoting and enhancing a whole-of-government, cross-jurisdictional approach to policy development, research, data collection, and monitoring and evaluation with respect to family, domestic and sexual violence initiatives.
The Commissioner should:
report to the Minister for Social Services;
be an ex officio observer on the National Federation Reform Council Taskforce on Women’s Safety;
be responsible for monitoring and evaluation of the next National Plan;
provide a formal mechanism for consultation with victim-survivors and non-government organisations; and
provide an annual report to the Parliament.
The Commissioner should be provided with appropriate resources to perform its functions for the duration of the next National Plan.