On Monday, the public hearings for Victoria’s Royal Commission into Family Violence began.
The public hearings follow the completion of community consultations and the close of written submissions in late May. Nearly 1000 Victorians – advocates, experts and policy stakeholders – provided submissions to the commission. They called for change in the justice, health, social and economic responses to family violence in Victoria.
The extent of change needed is captured in the Victorian government’s detailed submission. It described the family violence system as “fragmented” and resulting in “poor outcomes”.
Further demonstrating the extent of change needed, the Federation of Community Legal Centres set out 63 recommendations for change. Victoria Police provided detailed proposals for a victim-centric system based on perpetrator accountability and the delivery of “effective, efficient, dynamic” services.
A ‘world-class system’
The state government’s submission called for a “world-class system” based on a preventative framework, responses driven by high standards and a justice system focused on perpetrator accountability.
To achieve best practice, White Ribbon Australia recommended the commission expand its goals to consult internationally. This is an important recommendation which recognises that there may be valuable lessons to be gleaned from comparative international jurisdictions.
By looking beyond Australia, the commission could draw on evaluations, research and practitioner experiences to gauge the extent to which overseas approaches and best practice may benefit Victoria.
Creating a safer court environment
The Victorian Supreme Court noted that there is “significant scope” to improve court security and comforts for victims navigating court processes. Also recognising the vulnerability of persons who come in contact with the courts, the County Court advocated for a more secure court environment for victims, including adequate access to safety and support services.
Ensuring the safety of persons who come in contact with the courts following family violence victimisation is an essential issue for the commission. Research reveals the extent to which victims experience discomfort and safety concerns in their interactions with the court system. That courts can be a point of secondary victimisation for those who have already been abused at home is an unacceptable status quo in need of redress.
Other recommendations for reforms at the court level came from the Federation of Community Legal Centres. It advocated for expansion of the Family Violence Court Division to better deal with the “overwhelming demand” in family violence matters. The County Court also recommended that all family violence matters be “flagged” to improve case management and allow for fast-tracked listings.
Alongside court reforms, several submissions recognised the barriers that many people face in reporting an incident of family violence. To address this, the Victorian Coroners’ Court recommended expanding Crime Stoppers’ Say Something campaign. The campaign aims to encourage young persons who witness violence to report it anonymously by phone or online.
By expanding this campaign to cover family violence, the submission argues that opportunities for intervention and third party reporting rates could be enhanced.
The need for greater resources
Unsurprisingly, several stakeholder submissions highlight the need for greater funding of family violence systems and services. These submissions reveal that it will not be enough for the commission to identify change, and the government to implement reform, if that change is not adequately supported with the level of funding it so desperately requires.
The need for greater funding of services is evident in submissions from the Federation of Community Legal Centres, the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria Family Violence Taskforce, the County Court, Domestic Violence Victoria and Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria.
For Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria, the need for increased funding specifically of women-centred family violence services is central to its proposal for a strengthened “integrated service system”.
Seeking a more consistent approach to funding, Domestic Violence Victoria recommended that funds for the family violence system be provided from a “designated, guaranteed, recurrent” Commonwealth budget stream.
Beyond funding, stakeholder submissions highlighted deficiencies in data collection and management of family violence incidents in Victoria. This is much to the detriment of those working within the current system but also those seeking to improve it. To address this, several submissions pointed to the need to improve mechanisms for data collection, to provide greater opportunities for research and to ensure ongoing resource support for the Victorian Systemic Review of Family Violence Deaths.
The need for greater training
Several submissions emphasised the importance of training and education of those engaged in support service delivery, prevention and responses to family violence.
Domestic Violence Victoria recommended that all professions working in the family violence system be mandated to undertaken family violence training. It argued that such training will ensure “consistent levels of understanding of the issue”. This is an important achievement given widespread acknowledgement of the prevalence of misunderstandings of the nature and reality of family violence.
Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria also emphasised training. It recommended that a “consistent, comprehensive and up-to-date approach to workforce development” be introduced. This approach would ensure the delivery of family violence training to a range of persons working in government organisations, health and community services and through the education sector.
Like all other facets of the system, ensuring consistent and adequate training will require a significant funding commitment. It is essential, however, to the effective delivery of services at all stages of the Victorian family violence system.
An opportunity to listen and learn
The Victorian government’s submission identified that a key goal of the commission is to:
… achieve lasting and generational change.
The public hearings mark the next stage of this process. They will run as a series of modules, which begin this week with a focus on children, financial abuse, alcohol and drugs.
The royal commission presents a timely opportunity to greatly improve responses to family violence in Victoria. As the volume of submissions reveal, this is a task not easily achieved. The commission is undoubtedly taking important steps to navigate that field by engaging with the views and experiences of those involved at all levels of Victoria’s family violence system.