On 26 June 2014, four years into the implementation of the National Action Plan, the Senate referred an inquiry into domestic violence in Australia to the Finance and Public Administration References Committee. Among other matters, the committee was asked to consider ‘how the Federal Government can best support, contribute to and drive the social, cultural and behavioural shifts required to eliminate violence against women and their children’.
The committee was originally due to report in October 2014, but the Senate granted two extensions. The committee tabled a 37 page interim report in March 2015, and a 192 page final report in August 2015. Throughout the course of the inquiry, the committee received 165 public submissions, a number of confidential submissions, and conducted seven public hearings in locations around Australia, including Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane and Darwin.
In its final report, the committee highlighted the long-term commitment required to reduce domestic and family violence, and evidence indicating that ‘there is no silver bullet’. The committee concluded that reducing domestic and family violence requires ‘a coherent, strategic and long term effort by all levels of government and the community’.
The interim report contained nine recommendations. These related to:
funding for housing, homelessness and legal services;
better coordination of prevention programs, early intervention and crisis support;
better coordination of justice approaches;
more behavioural change programs for perpetrators;
long term funding for Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) and National Services; and
a review of policies and services for the treatment of alcohol and other drug abuse in the Northern Territory.
The final report included 25 recommendations, going to issues including:
family violence leave provisions;
affordable housing and crisis housing;
better coordination across states and territories, and with the non-government sector;
research, data, statistics and reporting;
funding balance to primary prevention and crisis services;
longer-term funding certainty (multi-year funding);
justice and policing initiatives, including those that remove the perpetrator from the home;
support for male victims; and
alcohol rehabilitation programs.
The Australian government tabled its response to the recommendations on 17 May 2017. The response, dated December 2016, addressed the recommendations from both the interim and final reports.
In relation to the interim report, the government either ‘supported’ or ‘supported in principle’ all of the recommendations except number nine. The unsupported recommendation suggested further research into alcohol-related harms in the Northern Territory, and proposed the ‘Banned Drinkers Register’ be re-established. In response, the government suggested that more research was not warranted, and reinstating the register would be a matter for the Northern Territory government.
Recommendations 3 and 4, which were around better coordination between jurisdictions and sectors, were fully supported. Recommendation 6, which proposed ‘the inclusion of respectful relationships education in the national curriculum’, was also fully supported.
Box 2.1: Respectful relationships
Respectful relationships education is included in the National Curriculum but not all states and territories have made teaching it mandatory.
The following recommendations were supported ‘in principle’, rather than fully supported:
Recommendations 1 and 2, which suggested boosting funding to legal services, and housing and homelessness initiatives, were supported in principle because decisions about funding for the relevant period had already been made, and ‘the provision of social housing is primarily the responsibility of state and territory governments’.
Recommendation 5, which proposed ‘the harmonisation of intervention orders across jurisdictions’ was supported in principle, noting that laws relating to intervention orders are a matter for states and territories.
Recommendation 7, on behavioural change programs for perpetrators, was supported in principle, noting that it closely aligned with the approach already agreed by COAG.
Recommendation 8, which proposed longer-term funding for ANROWS and National Services, was supported in principle. The response explained:
The Australian Government has committed to the ongoing funding of ANROWS for four years (2016-2020) and negotiations with the states and territories are almost complete. Funding will be extended for a further two years, subject to ANROWS’ satisfactory performance, from 2020-2022.
Box 2.2: Funding for ANROWS
As part of the Fourth Action Plan, ANROWS is set to receive:
$3.4 million in core funding jointly provided the Commonwealth government and all state and territory governments each year;
$5.639 million in additional funds between 2019–20 and 2021–22 to fund new research and evidence projects; and
$3.8 million to undertake the 2021 wave of the National Community Attitudes Towards Violence against Women Survey (NCAS).
In relation to the final report, the government fully supported:
Recommendation 2, which advocated better consultation with the domestic and family violence sector;
Recommendation 8, which promoted more school based education on respectful relationships;
Recommendation 9, which proposed that primary prevention programs should be coordinated by the federal government;
Recommendations 11 and 12, which recommend the government work through COAG to ensure that perpetrator programs are evidence-based and effective across jurisdictions, and take into account relevant research;
Box 2.3: Perpetrator interventions
The National Outcome Standards for Perpetrator Interventions (NOSPI) were endorsed by COAG on 11 December 2015. The NOSPI are designed to ‘guide and measure the outcomes achieved by perpetrator interventions across Australia’.
In 2016, the government published the National Outcome Standards for Perpetrator Interventions: Baseline Report, which provided ‘a national snapshot of the efforts underway in 2015 – 2016 in each jurisdiction to implement the Standards’. The report states the government’s intention that the NOSPI will be reported against nationally and annually.
Recommendation 19, which urged the government to prioritise realising efforts through COAG to create a national domestic violence order (DVO) scheme, and facilitate information-sharing among state police forces around DVOs;
Box 2.4: National DVO scheme
The National Domestic Violence Order Scheme came into effect in November 2017. Under the scheme: ‘All Domestic Violence Orders issued in an Australian state or territory from 25 November 2017 are automatically recognised and enforceable across Australia.’
Recommendation 15, around the need to provide appropriate services for male victims of domestic and family violence; and
Recommendation 22, which proposed short-term funding arrangements for the sector be extended to a multi-year approach.
The following recommendations were supported in principle:
Recommendation 1, regarding family violence leave provisions, was supported in principle, noting that the government was considering a report by the Productivity Commission into the matter.
Recommendations 4 and 6, which made proposals around research, data, statistics and reporting, was supported in principle, noting work already being undertaken, including into violence against women from diverse backgrounds.
Recommendation 5, which recommended the federal government coordinate ‘work to facilitate data collection pursuant to the National Data Collection and Reporting Framework’, was supported in principle, noting that all governments have a role to play.
Box 2.5: National data collection and reporting
The government has established a National Centre of Excellence under the National Plan and is making progress towards ‘operationalising’ a National Data Collection and Reporting Framework (DCRF).
However, the ANAO has reported concerns that there is no ‘plan identifying the sequence and priority of activities required to ensure that DCRF is operational by its target date of 2022’. The ANAO concluded that the department is unable to demonstrate whether jurisdictions are ‘on track’ to deliver this initiative.
Recommendation 7, which suggested the government guarantee to fund ANROWS until at least 2022, was supported in principle, noting the role of states and territories in determining the funding arrangements through COAG.
Recommendation 10, which suggested the government guarantee that funding for primary prevention programs should not be diverted from crisis services, was supported in principle noting the key role of the states and territories and recent investments.
Recommendations 17 and 18, which proposed nationally-coordinated training of family consultants and in family courts.
Recommendation 21, regarding ‘programs that facilitate the removal of perpetrators of domestic and family violence from the family home so that victims may remain safely at home’, was supported in principle, noting the primary role of the states and territories.
Recommendation 24, regarding approaches to reducing the role of alcohol in domestic and family violence, was supported in principle, noting that ‘alcohol related restrictions and bans, taxation and regulatory reform’ are matters for state and territory governments.
Recommendation 25, which suggested the Commonwealth work with states and territories to improve access to alcohol rehabilitation services in remote Indigenous communities, was supported in principle, with the response noting a number of existing initiatives.
The following recommendations were not supported:
Recommendation 3 was not supported. This recommendation proposed the Prime Minister table a report in parliament every year to outline progress on reducing violence against women and their children, and report on funding decisions. The response stated that:
The Australian Government does not support this recommendation, given that a number of mechanisms exist for reporting on the progress of efforts to eliminate domestic, family and sexual violence. Progress is reported annually against the implementation of the National Plan and its three-yearly Action Plans. Rather than developing a new annual report, these reports could be tabled in Parliament by the Minister for Women.
Recommendation 13 was not supported. This recommendation proposed the establishment of a ‘subcommittee of First Ministers to enable jurisdictions to share the results of trials and to coordinate the development of best practice policy and service responses to domestic and family violence’. The idea was not supported because ‘COAG does not establish subcommittees of First Ministers’, and instead works through COAG Councils and working groups, as well as with the state and territory portfolio ministers.
Box 2.6: COAG arrangements
Concurrent with the Fourth Action Plan, COAG has elevated the Women’s Safety Ministers Forum to a formal COAG Women’s Safety Council.
Recommendation 14, which proposed the Commonwealth ‘take leadership in the facilitation of effective police responses to domestic and family violence’, was not supported because policing is a responsibility of states and territories. However, the response highlighted work being done at the national level around policing and Indigenous communities, and stated:
The Australian Government is providing $14 million to expand the DV‑alert training program to ensure that police, social workers, emergency department staff and community workers better support women at risk of, or experiencing, family and domestic violence.
Recommendation 16, which recommended the Evaluation Plan for the National Plan include a coordinated status report on the consideration of the recommendations in the 2010 report by the Australian and NSW Law Reform Commissions, was not supported. The government argued that the Evaluation Plan for the National Plan was ‘not an appropriate mechanism’ for responding to the 2010 report, and that subsequent inquiries had produced more up-to-date research on the interactions between the family law system and domestic violence.
Recommendations 20 and 23, which proposed the Commonwealth government ‘play a lead role’ in developing and funding supported housing programs across the country, and ensuring the supply of affordable housing, were noted. The government’s response indicated that provision of social housing, homelessness services, and affordable housing is primarily the responsibility of state and territory governments, with the Commonwealth government providing support to their efforts.