Australia's domestic violence laws

On May 3, 2017, candlelight vigils were held across Australia to remember the lives lost to domestic and family violence. Rosie Batty spoke at the Brisbane vigil, describing how she never stops thinking of her late son, Luke, who was murdered by his father in February 2014. Crikey has compiled a list of some of the major initiatives taken by state and territory governments since February 2014 in the family and domestic violence area.

Queensland

Since coming into power in February 2015, the current Queensland government has made a number of changes in the area of domestic and family violence. Many of the changes were adapted from the “Not Now, Not Ever” report, which was given to the Queensland government by the special taskforce created to look at domestic and family violence issues in the state.  

September 2015: Tara Brown was murdered by her ex-partner after he forced her car off the road. It is alleged Brown had gone to police in the days leading up to her murder seeking help to leave her violent partner and was told to go elsewhere. Within 48 hours of Brown’s murder, Karina Lock was shot dead by her ex-partner in-front of a Gold Coast McDonald’s outlet. After these incidents, the Queensland government swiftly announced changes to the way police responded to domestic and family violence cases, including new protocols to allow “victims of domestic and family violence [to] be informed if their perpetrator is released on bail or from prison …”

New South Wales

October 2014: The New South Wales government introduced legislation to allow police to wear body-mounted video cameras as a way of obtaining evidence in domestic and family violence cases. This also allowed police to, with permission from the victim, obtain statements from the victim at the scene or in the immediate aftermath of the incident which can be used in court.

March 2016: A bill for national recognition of Domestic Violence Orders is introduced to state Parliament.

May 2016: The NSW government expanded the reasons for which victims can obtain an apprehended domestic violence order (ADVO). The government also introduced an initiative to offer free counselling to victims of crime who are experiencing financial hardship.

July 2016: Reforms to tenancy laws meant that victims were able to immediately end tenancy and residential agreements by providing evidence of a provisional, interim or final ADVO.

June 2016: In the 2016 budget, the NSW government announced a $300 million package aimed to combat issues of domestic and family violence. The use of GPS technology to track offenders and funding for a statewide roll-out of the Safer Pathway program, were part of the announcement.

Western Australia

June 2014: The Law Reform Commission of Western Australia published its Enhancing Family and Domestic Violence Laws report, which identified a number of areas for reform. The state government at the time, however, dragged its feet.

March 2017: Western Australia voted in a new Labor government. The new government has kept promises, such as signing up to “Our Watch”, an organisation that focuses on education and changing the messages and behaviours that contribute to family and domestic violence. The new Premier Mark McGowan also kept his promise to introduce a Family and Domestic Violence Minister (the role was given to Simone McGurk). However, McGowan still has many more election promises to meet in relation to family and domestic violence.

Northern Territory

September 2016: In an interview with 105.7 ABC Darwin , the Northern Territory Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw said police officers had responded to 75,000 domestic and family violence cases in the past three years.

October 2016: Coroner Greg Cavanagh handed down a report in relation to the deaths of two women from Alice Springs. The women were both in abusive relationships. Cavanagh recommended domestic and family violence matters be prioritised in court. As a result, it was announced the Northern Territory planned to establish a separate domestic violence court.

South Australia

July 2015: The Domestic Violence Court Assistance Service was established. In 1997, the first family violence “court” was established in South Australia, but this service will allow victims to seek out free legal advice and support. The service was created after the findings of a 2014 coronial inquest into the death of Zahra Abrahimzadeh were handed down.

April 2016: The South Australian Parliament’s Social Development Committee made 35 recommendations on how to tackle domestic and family violence.

September 2016: A woman in regional South Australia opened a self-funded safe house for victims of domestic and family violence.

October 2016: A pilot education program was launched to assist women living in safe shelters to learn about subjects like financial management.

April 2017: The Corrections Department began a trial involving the use of GPS ankle bracelets, fitted to domestic violence offenders. The trial will run for three years and was funded through a federal government grant. 

Australian Capital Territory

June 2015: The ACT government allocated $250,000 to be shared between the Domestic Violence Crisis Service, the Rape Crisis Centre and Canberra Men’s Centre. A further $615,000 was announced to fund a respectful relationships program in schools.

May 2016: Police in the ACT were able to start taking video statements, which could later be used in court. The first conviction with the use of a video statement occurred in November 2016.

May 2016: Three reports were released, each containing a number of recommendations for improvement to the domestic and family violence response in the ACT. In the ACT’s 2016 budget announcement, a $21.4 million safer families package was announced. The package was to be funded over four years, and in part, by an annual $30 levy on all ACT households. The package will boost funding to organisations such as support and legal services, training programs and change programs.

August 2016: The ACT government passed the Family Violence Bill 2016, which broadened the definition of domestic and family violence, added protections for victims of domestic, family and sexual violence and improved access to the civil dispute tribunal.   

May 2017: Defence lawyers were alarmed when new bail-review legislation was used just one day after it came into effect, even though the lawyers believe the legislation is a violation of human rights. Though he had been granted bail, a man was temporarily detained after being accused of committing domestic violence offences while the prosecutor determined whether a review of the bail decision was necessary.

Victoria

October 2014: Victoria’s Liberal government announced a $150 million program to begin using GPS tracking technology on domestic and family violence offenders. However, in December 2014, new Labor Premier Daniel Andrews was sworn in. He chose to focus on his own election promises in this area.

July 2015: The Victorian Royal Commission into family violence began, with the report being delivered to Government House in March 2016.

2016: In the 2016 budget, Premier Daniel Andrews announced $572 million to deliver 65 of the 227 recommendations which came from the royal commission.

November 2016: The Victorian government released its 10-year plan for change on family violence.

May 2017: The Victorian government announced a $1.9 billion family violence package in the Victorian budget announcement. The package will mean the Victorian government has now funded 200 of the 227 recommendations from the Royal Commission into Family Violence. The package will includes 17 new safety and support hubs, where victims can obtain support from varied sectors, all in one place.

Tasmania

August 2015: The Tasmanian government announced a $25.6 million domestic and family violence package. The four-year package included funding for a new government unit called Safe Families Tasmania, as well as funding for support and housing services.

Late 2015: Amendments were introduced in Tasmania that meant a person accused of domestic and family violence could not cross-examine an alleged victim.

August 2016: The Tasmanian government announced funding for two new programs, one a men’s behavioural change program and the other a training course for service workers about dealing with family violence perpetrators.

September 2016: the Domestic Violence Order (National Recognition) Bill was passed by the Tasmanian Parliament. The bill upheld the 2015 COAG agreement about the introduction of a nation DVO scheme.

National

September 2015: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Minister for Women Michaelia Cash announced a $100 million domestic and family violence package. The package gave funding to support and counselling services, and for technology trials and security measures. Some of the funds also went to the expansion of the Safer Schools website and to law enforcement agencies.

April 2016: The first National Family Violence Summit produced a report given to the federal government.

August 2016: Attorney-General George Brandis launched the National Domestic and Family Violence Bench Book. The book was designed to provide insight into the many ways domestic and family violence manifests. For example, emotional and/or financial abuse and how these behaviours can indicate a higher risk of a victim suffering severe violence and/or death.

April 2017: The federal government announced the federal budget would include a $39 million funding package for support and legal services and $16.7 million for indigenous legal services, over the next three years.

This is not a complete list, but it shows the steps taken by the federal, state and territory governments to work together to eliminate domestic and family violence since Rosie Batty began her campaign.

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Peter Fray
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