Overhauling Victoria’s response to family violence


The critical Royal Commission into Family Violence Report receives community commendation, writes CARL BUHARIWALA

Family violence is a tragic situation and a sensitive issue for all those involved. In the midst of such situations, victims are often unsure where to turn to voice their concerns, or are unable to access the appropriate authorities. Difficulties in addressing this problem have exposed the failings in the justice and healthcare systems.

The devastating death of Victorian schoolboy Luke Batty in 2014 ignited a mission to resolve these fundamental issues.

The first comprehensive report into family violence was delivered on 29 March 2016. After extensive research and a lengthy exploration process, the Royal Commission into Family Violence produced an eight volume report explaining the systemic issues and making 227 recommendations.

Royal Commission Into Family Violence.Indian Link

The Commission was led by Marcia Neave AO, former judge of the Victorian Court of Appeal. She was supported by Deputy Commissioner Patricia Faulkner AO and Deputy Commissioner Tony Nicholson. Taking 13 months to prepare and funded by the Victorian government, the three led a team that interviewed victims, family members, police officers and professionals in the field.

Executive Director at Springvale Monash Legal Service (SMLS) Kristen Wallwork commented, “SMLS welcomes and congratulates the State government’s initiative of a Royal Commission into family violence. We believe the recommendations will provide early intervention opportunities, prevention and accountability of those who perpetrate violence. SMLS is also pleased to see the financial commitment made by the State government towards implementing the recommendations.”

The report made some important findings, including recommending 17 safety and support hubs be established throughout Victoria to provide guidance and assistance to victims regarding police, medical, counselling and accommodation services. In addition, perpetrators should have their details entered into a centralised information database to increase transparency and to ensure that they are correctly monitored in the justice system. Further, police should have cameras incorporated into their uniforms, schools should encourage safe relationship activities, and courts should have procedures in place to segregate victims from perpetrators and have a specialised division dealing with family violence cases.

Royal Commission Into Family Violence.Indian Link

“Programs should be put in place to deal with family violence matters before it escalates,” suggested Dinesh Weerakkody, a solicitor who founded the Channel 31 broadcast LawHelp Australia in early 2014. “Unfortunately, there is no procedure in place to compel a possible aggressor to seek remedial and therapeutic assistance pursuant to a court order following a complaint by a distraught family member before matters get worse.”

Especially in South Asian and Indian communities, where gender equality is often held in less regard, there is a greater need for careful and considered programs to tackle abuse. Melbourne’s Indian community had been receiving increasing attention following the deaths of over a dozen women since 2012 and due to a surge in the number of court referrals involving men to behavioural change programs. Furthermore, psychiatrists have reported that they are treating many Indian women who have been traumatised by family events.

In response, Kildonan UnitingCare led an initiative and created a 22-week behaviour change course in September 2013 for South Asian men from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Funded by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice, the program takes into account cultural issues relevant to South Asian families, as well as the social and economic impacts of migration and resettlement.

Royal Commission Into Family Violence.Indian Link

The Royal Commission into Family Violence report provides extensive analysis of how issues should be tackled. This will allow fundamental stakeholders to better understand their role and the way forward. The family violence sector needs to better connect with other support services, such as those tackling alcohol and drug issues, providing training and education for parents and couples and dealing with people from CALD and disadvantaged backgrounds.

Recently, on 13 April, the Victorian government committed $527 million to fund certain initiatives. Areas receiving attention in the package included crisis housing construction and accommodation, support services for children, specialist family violence services and programs to promote respect in the community and at schools.

LawHelp Australia, a registered charity, provides easy-to-understand educative seminars with legal tips and updates directed towards those from disadvantaged and CALD backgrounds. The organisation recently recorded an episode on the report and it can be viewed on YouTube.

Those experiencing domestic violence should contact 1800 RESPECT. In an emergency you should call 000 immediately.