The devastating facts surrounding family, domestic and sexual violence are sadly all too familiar to Australians.
These facts tell us that in the time since this inquiry was referred, more than 40 women will have been murdered at the hands of a current or former partner. Countless other women, children and men will have experienced many other forms of non-lethal family violence and abuse.
These facts also tell us that the impact of such violence and abuse is profound and long lasting—on victim-survivors, on their families, friends and on the very fabric of our society.
Governments across Australia came together in 2009 to establish the National Plan to reduce violence against women and their children 2010 – 2022. Many achievements have flowed from the National Plan, including the creation of Our Watch, the Stop it at the Start awareness campaign, and national support services such as 1800RESPECT.
Importantly, through the National Plan the community has begun to grapple with the cultural change that is necessary to prevent violence from occurring in the first instance. As a result, more people are willing to speak up and to challenge the attitudes and behaviours that lead to violence. However there is much more work to be done.
It is clear that the National Plan has not achieved its objective of a significant and sustained reduction in violence against women and their children. Over the life of the National Plan, governments of all jurisdictions and all political persuasions have spent over $3 billion in an attempt to reduce family, domestic and sexual violence. It is clearly not for the want of trying that we as a nation have not reduced these shocking statistics that see the death of one woman on average every eight days at the hands of her partner or former partner.
Governments cannot eliminate family, domestic and sexual violence alone. A whole-of-society response is vital. All forms of family, domestic and sexual violence start with a lack of respect. We all have a role in changing those entrenched attitudes and behaviours, particularly towards the inequality of women and girls. As a nation we can do better, we must do better.
As the first National Plan comes to an end, addressing family, domestic and sexual violence remains an urgent challenge. Behind every shocking statistic is the life of an individual, cut short or often irreparably damaged by someone who once cared for them. However, the impacts of such violence run far deeper than just the lives tragically lost. There are victim-survivors who live in constant fear, for themselves, their children, their parents and work colleagues. The ripple effect caused by family, domestic and sexual violence cascades through our community and is becoming a tsunami of inconsolable grief for those impacted.
This inquiry was an opportunity to reflect on the successes and shortcomings of the National Plan, to hear from experts in the field about what has and has not worked, and to identify opportunities to ensure that the next National Plan leads to a meaningful reduction in the unacceptable rates of family, domestic and sexual violence.
It is important to acknowledge that the Committee also received some evidence on aspects of sexual violence such as sexual assault in the wider community and sexual harassment in workplaces and on campuses. While the Committee believes that these are serious issues that require further action from all governments, for the purposes of this inquiry, sexual violence beyond the family and domestic context was not examined in detail.
In this bipartisan report, the Committee makes 88 recommendations, which seek to inform the development of the next National Plan. The breadth of the recommendations reflects the complexity of the task at hand and the Committee’s strong view that a whole-of-society response is vital.
The Committee’s recommendations can be grouped into five key themes.
First, the next National Plan should involve a more uniform approach across jurisdictions, and one that is more inclusive of the various manifestations of family violence as well as the diversity of both victim-survivors and perpetrators. This should include the development of a uniform national definition of family, domestic and sexual violence that takes account of non-physical forms of violence such as coercive control, financial and technology-facilitated abuse.
Second, the next National Plan must seek to engender a culture of accountability and greater workforce support. All Australian governments should work collaboratively and transparently and be held to account through quantitative targets. While programs and services should have appropriate needs-based long‑term funding, an ongoing and timely program of independent monitoring and evaluation is vital to better understand what works, what does not, and why. The Committee has also recommended the establishment of a National Commissioner to have independent oversight of the next National Plan.
Third, education is critical. There remains a need for greater awareness and understanding of the many forms of family, domestic and sexual violence, the causes and impacts of this violence, and the ways in which it can be prevented. The Committee’s recommendations include a continued focus on primary prevention, early intervention, universal age-appropriate respectful relationships and sexual consent education, and measures to support the social services sector to have a greater role in identifying and responding to violence.
Fourth, in the response to family, domestic and sexual violence, the welfare of victim-survivors and their children should be paramount. The next National Plan should seek to improve victim-survivors’ access to specialist services, as well as housing, legal aid, and financial assistance. The Committee has recommended improvements to risk identification, including ensuring that coercive control is recognised as not only a form of abuse in its own right, but as a precursor to severe physical violence and homicide. The Committee has also made a number of observations and recommendations for improving services to victim-survivors in times of natural disasters informed by our collective experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Finally, the next National Plan must continue to hold perpetrators to account for their use of violence. This should include increased penalties for breaches of domestic violence orders, and improved information sharing about perpetrators. However, the Committee has also identified a need for research to better understand why perpetrators choose to use violence, and an increased focus on evidence-based programs to change perpetrators’ behaviour, as well as dedicated funding for support services for perpetrators’ partners and other family members.
In this inquiry, the Committee has sought to listen to the voices of victim-survivors and experts. The Committee is indebted to the many organisations and individuals who contributed evidence to the inquiry. In particular, on behalf of the Committee, I would like to sincerely thank the victim-survivors who shared their experiences with the Committee. We acknowledge their courage in speaking out and advocating for change.
The Committee hopes that this report will contribute to the ongoing efforts of governments, support organisations, business and community groups and individuals to bring about change. Strengthening and supporting this collective effort must continue, as a national priority, until the scourge of family, domestic and sexual violence is eliminated from our society.
The Committee implores all Australian governments to carefully consider this report and to act on its recommendations with urgency.
Mr Andrew Wallace MP