Hopeful Developments in Family Violence in Australia
In Australia, one woman per week dies from intimate partner violence. By October 2015, 62 women had died due to intimate partner family violence in the calendar year. There have been decades of advocacy challenging the poor responses of authorities, including courts, police, government and lawyers, and raising awareness of the human rights of women and children, linked to housing and financial support. Indeed, the UN specifically notes the connection between gender-based violence leading to violations of a range of human rights and fundamental freedoms that require State responses. Nonetheless, patchy policy remains in Australia, including: inadequately funded, untailored and inaccessible services; a lack of evidence-based approaches to prevention, legal responses and early intervention; and an insufficient monitoring and reporting system.
Indigenous women are 34 times more likely to suffer family violence than non-indigenous women and 11 times more likely to die at the hands of their partners. They distrust authorities and are unlikely to seek help. Women’s refuges struggle to find safe spaces for women and children and homelessness increases. Legal Assistance Services continue to have high numbers of family violence cases and, as noted in my previous post, continue to work under the stress of under-funding and increasing demand.
The ‘tipping point’, after decades of advocacy and policy submissions, seems to have finally come in Australia.
In February 2014, in the small town of Tyabb in south eastern Victoria, Luke Batty, an eleven year old boy, was murdered by his father, Greg Anderson, at a cricket match in which his son was playing in front of onlookers, including his mother, Rosie Batty. Luke’s father had a family violence order against him but still continued to threaten and intimidate his former wife. The coronial inquiry documented this with findings on 28 September 2015. Shortly after Luke’s death, his mother gave an articulate plea for need of authorities and society to take family violence more seriously and change how it was handled. Overcoming the scourge of backlash she suffered for speaking so bravely in public, in January 2015 Rosie was named ‘Australian of the Year’ giving her a platform from which to argue the case against family violence. At the ceremony, standing next to former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, she continued her call for more state measures to be introduced to address domestic abuse.
On 22 February 2015, the Victorian State government announced a Royal Commission into Family Violence. This Inquiry finished its hearing on 16 October 2015 (215 witnesses and 1,000 written submissions) and will report to the Victorian Government on 23 February 2016.
On 26 March 2015, in a Joint Press Release, the Attorney General Senator, George Brandis, and the then Women Assisting the Prime Minister for Women, Senator Cash, reversed part of the cuts to family violence initiatives – an unprecedented act. Although community legal centres are still likely to struggle (with further budget constraints in 2017) this at least underscores the growing priority being given to addressing family violence.
Most recently, in the first decision of the new cabinet under the Prime Ministership of Malcolm Turnbull, a ‘Women’s Safety Package’ was announced. In a joint press release, delivered at the Eastern Community Legal Centre in Melbourne, it outlined ‘the Australian Government’s $100 million investment in the Second Action Plan of the National Plan, and the $30 million national campaign to reduce violence against women and their children, jointly funded with the states and territories.’
At the launch Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull spoke emphatically: “Violence against women is one of the great shames of Australia. It is a national disgrace… Let me say this to you: disrespecting women does not always result in violence against women. But all violence against women begins with disrespecting women,”
Money, although necessary, will not in and of itself lead to less family violence but as the Recommendation of CEDAW notes, State parties need to take ‘effective measures’ to overcome violence. In Australia, the tipping point witnessed in recent months suggests a shift in priority. It has given those of us who have personal experience of family violence and who have worked so hard to prevent it room for hope. We will watch if rhetoric is matched by ‘effective measures’ and whether decision-makers and services respond to the lived experience of family violence, especially for women and children.