This report reflects bipartisan concern that the Australian Government’s approach to family, domestic and sexual violence over the past seven years has been inadequate.
The evidence taken by this Committee was unequivocal – the scale of the problem is greater than either the resources or resolve that the Australian Government has committed to date. In response, the majority of this Committee has endorsed a set of recommendations that both call on the Government to face up to the challenge and embrace the Australian Government’s capacity and obligation to do more.
The need for a proper policy process
Many of the ideas proposed by the majority have not been recommended by other inquiries or proposed through other policy processes. Labor members applaud the ambition of the Committee’s recommendations. However further work would be needed to test the practicality of some recommendations and ensure that there are not unintended consequences. Labor members express caution about any efforts to recover costs of fleeing violence that may directly or indirectly impact on victim-survivors.
This Committee’s inquiry is not a substitute for proper policy processes. In estimates shortly before this report was tabled, the Minister for Families and Social Services refused to commit to the same level of consultation that was undertaken in formulating the first National Plan when formulating the next National Plan. The Minister has also suggested that the Department of Social Services may rely on this Committee’s work in developing the next National Plan. The Australian Government cannot outsource its responsibility to listen to academics, service providers, victim-survivors, and others with an interest in the prevention of violence against women and their children.
Australian Government’s inaction
It is appropriate and sensible that the Australian Government pays attention to the work that this Committee has done. However, Labor members would suggest that the Government also look back to the recommendations of previous parliamentary inquiries, the work undertaken by the Victorian Royal Commission, and the recommendations of the COAG Advisory Panel on Reducing Violence against Women and their Children.
Many of the recommendations made by this Committee in our report have been made previously by previous Committees in previous reports. They could have been implemented by the Government years ago. The failure to do so has had very real consequences. The economic cost of violence against women and their children in Australia is estimated at $26 billion each year. Victims and survivors bear more than half of this cost, as well as the long-term social, health and psychological damage.
This report rightly calls for further data about how gendered violence manifests itself in Australia, and what gaps are present in the services that seek to assist women and children who are in violent relationships. There is no reason why measures like this could not have been included in any of the National Action Plans created under this Government.
This report likewise has called for an integrated, whole-of-system response to family, domestic and sexual violence across jurisdictions. The Government has failed to date to even create an integrated, whole-of-system response across the Commonwealth’s agencies and services. Over the past 12 months it has been revealed that treasury and tax office officials failed to consider the risk of financial abuse when designing multiple policies. The Government has failed to embed prevention of family, domestic and sexual violence within its own policy making processes. Labor members applaud the majority for calling for this to change.
Recognition of the Commonwealth’s role
When the Minister for Families and Social Services has been asked in estimates about service gaps and the extent of unmet need, the Minister has often intimated that it is up to the states and territories to act. This report demonstrates the responsibility the Coalition Government has failed to take and the need it has not met.
Labor and Government members of the Committee have called for the Australian Government to provide more funding and focus for key groups including (amongst others):
culturally and linguistically diverse communities;
people living in regional, remote and rural Australia;
people on temporary visas;
children and young people; and
Labor members also commend the Committee for recommending funding commitments that have been resisted by the Australian Government. These include:
a funding extension for No to Violence; and
an extension of the additional Covid funding.
Labor members note the strong evidence received by this Committee for the introduction of 10 days paid domestic violence leave per year and calls on the Australian Government to include this leave entitlement in the National Employment Standards as a matter of priority. Paid domestic violence leave would give victim-survivors the necessary time and financial support to attend to safety measures such as finding a new place to live, seeking legal advice and attending legal proceedings, counselling, attending medical and financial appointments or enrolling their children in a new school.
Having received unequivocal evidence that gender inequality is a principal driver of family, domestic and sexual violence, Labor members call on the Australian Government to develop a National Gender Equality Strategy and commit to legislative change to promote and improve gender equality as a matter of urgency.
Action is needed now
Many of the recommendations in this report could be implemented immediately. The Government should not wait for the next National Plan. Labor and Government members of this Committee are calling for urgent action to be taken. A crucial test for the Government is how quickly it responds to this report, and how willing it is to enact its recommendations.
Ms Sharon Claydon MPMs Peta Murphy MP
Dr Mike Freelander MPMs Kate Thwaites MP