Time for Action: The National Council’s Plan for Australia to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children, 2009–2021 (the Plan) was released on 29 April 2009. The Plan was designed to provide a shared understanding, common purpose and the foundation for a collaborative approach between different levels of government and the wider community. The Plan identifies strategies and actions against six outcome areas:
- communities are safe and free from violence;
- relationships are respectful;
- services meet the needs of women and their children;
- responses are just;
- perpetrators stop their violence; and
- systems work together effectively.
The Plan recommends a number of actions to which the Australian Capital Territory, through Ministerial Councils, will contribute. These actions include the development of primary prevention frameworks, workforce strategies and exploring good practice family violence interventions. All of these actions are likely to require a whole of ACT Government commitment and the development of an ACT implementation plan. It is anticipated that FVIP agencies will significantly contribute to the development of ACT-specific plans and strategies. Recommendations that, if implemented, may affect FVIP agencies at an operational level are identified in Appendix D against the implementation timeframes identified within the Plan—immediate, 2009–2012, 2012–2015 and 2015–2018.
The Australian Capital Territory, through the FVIP, Domestic Violence Prevention Council (DVPC) and other government service provision, has already undertaken significant work to support and improve outcomes for residents affected by family violence that meet or contribute to the actions identified in the Plan. The discussion below is limited to identifying key changes that FVIP partner agencies have implemented in the 2008–09 financial year, the role of the DVPC and four recommendations for immediate action from the Plan that will affect the FVIP at an operational level.
Australian Capital Territory context
The implementation of the Plan in the Australian Capital Territory must be understood within the context of recent operational, policy and legislative changes. This report focuses on data collected during the 2007–08 financial year and the operation of the FVIP during that time. Since 1 July 2008, developments have occurred that will affect the FVIP’s operation and contribute to meeting the outcomes identified in the Plan. While some of these changes are noted here, they are not articulated in detail in this report.
In September 2008, phased implementation of the Children and Young People Act 2008 began, coming into full effect in February 2009. This Act makes provisions for the care and protection of children and young people suffering abuse and/or neglect and imposes standards for the secure care and/or management of young offenders. Under s 342 of this Act, abuse of a child has been explicitly expanded to include exposure to domestic violence. The specific provision defines emotional abuse (including psychological abuse) as where:
- the child or young person has seen or heard the physical, sexual or psychological abuse of a person with whom the child or young person has a domestic relationship, the exposure to which has caused or is causing significant harm to the wellbeing or development of the child or young person; or
- if the child or young person has been put at risk of seeing or hearing abuse mentioned in subparagraph (i), the exposure to which would cause significant harm to the wellbeing or development of the child or young person.
In September 2008, the Australian Capital Territory announced the opening of Bimberi Youth Justice Centre (to replace Quamby Youth Detention Centre) and the Alexander Maconochie Centre, the ACT’s first prison. Planning for the new youth justice facility provided the impetus to review service delivery models for young offenders. A new cognitive skills-based program, Changing Habits and Reaching Targets, has been introduced. Changing Habits and Reaching Targets is a structured individual intervention program designed to assist young offenders to understand and address their offending behaviours. The program includes six core modules and six discretionary modules that may be undertaken to address specific offence-related needs. The core modules include Motivation to Change and Offending Thinking. The discretionary modules include Healthy Relationships, Violence and Drugs and Alcohol.
The Alexander Maconochie Centre opening has meant that all persons sentenced to terms of imprisonment will serve those sentences within the Australian Capital Territory. Repatriation of ACT prisoners held in New South Wales was completed in May 2009. ACTCS, therefore, is now able to provide rehabilitation programs to all offenders assessed as suitable, including those convicted of family violence offences. Continuity of program delivery is also more effectively administered as those persons receiving a post-prison GBO will be able to continue programs begun within the prison setting when they return to the community.
In February 2009, DVCS and ACT Policing introduced the Family Violence Incident Review (FVIR). The FVIR consists of weekly meetings between ACT Policing’s Intervention Team Sergeant and the DVCS Client Services Coordinator, where all family violence incidents attended by ACT Policing for the previous seven days are reviewed. Both agencies record a separate task list of any follow-up action necessary in response to issues identified that require attention.
The FVIR aims to provide:
- quality assurance of existing collaborative responses with a particular focus on victims and their children;
- promote early identification/intervention/prevention in situations, particularly in matters where no offence is disclosed through an improved/increased response;
- capture ‘missing’ notifications and ‘no invites’ (disparity in data) in a more comprehensive/accurate manner and address to increase overall compliance;
- ensure that family violence incidents are accurately recorded in PROMIS;
- increase victim/community confidence in the criminal justice response because of improvements in the quality of the initial response; and
- build an intelligence picture, where possible, of family violence trends in the Australian Capital Territory.
On 30 March 2009, the Domestic Violence and Protection Orders Act 2008 came into effect, replacing the Domestic Violence and Protection Orders Act 2001. Under the new provisions, the definition of a relevant person has been expanded to include those in intimate relationships between two people other than a domestic relationship even if they are not or have not been members of the same household. Boyfriend/girlfriend and non-cohabitating homosexual partners who engage in family violence will therefore be provided the same level of response from the police and the courts as other intimate partners. This change will influence the procedures police employ in handling these matters and affect the number of defendants who appear on the specialist family violence list.
Other recent legislative changes have expanded the use of Closed Circuit Television to allow family violence victim witnesses to testify on camera. This may increase the capacity of reluctant victim witnesses to participate fully in the justice process, as it will reduce the amount of contact between the victim and accused. Victim participation in the justice system may also be improved by recent changes to the committals process which reduces the number of times a victim witness needs to testify. Changes to the committals process will also affect accused persons as they will need to make the decision to be heard by the Supreme Court at an earlier date than was previously necessary.
In addition, the Victims of Crime Act 1994 is being reviewed. The review covers the effectiveness of the legislation in meeting the interests of victims of crime and the roles and functions of the VoCC.
The Domestic Violence Prevention Council
The DVPC was established by the Domestic Violence Agencies Act 1986. The FVIP operated as a sub-committee of the DVPC from its inception in 1998 until 2004 when an MoA established governance through the FVIP Coordinating Committee. Although the FVIP is independent of the DVPC, council membership includes representation from FVIP partner agencies, including the Domestic Violence Project Coordinator.
Section 5 of the Domestic Violence Agencies Act 1986 identifies that the objective of the Council is to reduce the incidence of domestic violence offences through the provision of its statutory functions:
- to promote collaboration among government agencies and non-government organisations involved in law enforcement;
- the provision of health, education, crisis or welfare services to victims or perpetrators of domestic violence or otherwise relating to the incidence or prevention of domestic violence;
- to assist and encourage the agencies and organisations to promote projects and programs aimed at enhancing the safety and security of victims of domestic violence offences, with particular regard to children;
- to advise the Minister on any matter relating to domestic violence;
- to inquire into and provide advice to the Minister on matters relating to domestic violence that have been referred to the council by the Minister;
- to establish and maintain links with and among government agencies and non-government organisations concerned with domestic violence;
- to assist government agencies and non-government organisations to develop procedures for the collection, standardisation and sharing of statistical information relating to domestic violence offences;
- to collect statistical and other information relating to domestic violence offences;
- to prepare and submit to the Minister a plan for dealing with domestic violence in the community, including recommendations on any changes in the law or its administration that may be necessary; improving the effectiveness of the provision of assistance to victims of domestic violence offences; the prevention of the occurrence of domestic violence offences; and developing systems for monitoring the effectiveness of any programs recommended in the plan that are implemented;
- to monitor developments within and outside Australia of legislation, policy and community views on domestic violence and the provision of health and welfare services to victims and perpetrators of domestic violence offences; and
- to give directions to the coordinator.
Recommendations for immediate action from the Plan
Four of the recommendations for immediate action from the Plan are identified below, as their implementation will directly affect the operation of one or more FVIP partner agencies.
Action 4.3.1 Establish a mechanism that enables automatic national registration of domestic and family violence protection orders and subsequent variations, adaptations and modifications occurring anywhere in Australia or New Zealand, and consider the need to include police-issued domestic and family violence orders on the national register.
The Plan articulates the need to remove geographic boundaries for domestic and family violence protection orders to address ‘issues of natural justice, safe transition and continued protection across jurisdictions’ (National Council 2009: 100). The Australian Government has established a working group, through the Standing Committee of Attorneys General, to develop the national protection order registration scheme.
Operationally, this will allow ACT Policing to enforce orders from other jurisdictions. This is of particular significance to the Australian Capital Territory, given its close proximity to Queanbeyan, New South Wales. It is also important when family violence victims reside in one jurisdiction but are victimised in another. This means that ACT Policing may be better able to respond to the needs of these family violence victims.
Action 4.3.2 Establish or build on emerging homicide/fatality review processes in all states and territories to review deaths that result from domestic and family violence so as to identify factors leading to these deaths, improve system responses and respond to service gaps. As part of this process, ensure all information is, or recommendations are, centrally recorded and available for information exchange.
Such a review may require resources from all FVIP partner agencies and the establishment of a working group consisting of FVIP representatives, other government and non-government service providers and community members. Work currently being under taken by the AIC may inform the ACT review processes.
In January 2008, the Australian Government commissioned the AIC to investigate domestic-related homicide and inform interventions to protect women and children from violence. The project aims to identify early warning signs and factors associated with increased risk of domestic violence and homicide, as well as investigate the nature and extent of family-related homicide involving Indigenous Australians. These aims utilise and build upon the AIC’s national homicide monitoring program (NHMP).
The NHMP, established in 1989, collects data on homicide incidents in Australia. Data from the NHMP has consistently shown that, on average, about 40 percent of all homicides in Australia are domestic or family related. Of intimate partner homicides, about half involve a known history of domestic violence.
Since the NHMP began, 37 homicides have been recorded within the Australian Capital Territory. Between 1994 and 2007, 16 homicides were recorded between family members. This figure represents 43 percent of all homicides in the Australian Capital Territory. The relatively small proportion of homicides in the Australian Capital Territory compared with the rest of Australia conflates the ratio that is family violence related. Of the 16 family violence homicides recorded since 1994, nine were committed between intimate partners (56%) and seven (43%) between other family relationships including parent/child, child/parent and siblings.
Action 5.1.1 Fund and develop a correctional facility-specific domestic violence behaviour change program to be tested in Australian prisons.
The Australian Government has committed $3m to support research on offender treatment programs. The government is also committed to discussing the place of offender treatment programs in prisons with the states and territories when the Plan is considered by the Council of Australian Governments. In the short term, ACTCS may benefit from allocating resources to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the FVSC Program and undertake research to identify the specific needs of ACT family violence offenders to inform the ACT Government position in relation to this action.
Action 6.1.1 Commonwealth, state, territory and local government agencies work collaboratively to develop policy, planning and service delivery responses for sexual assault, domestic and family violence; and establish performance reporting measures that recognise and encourage collaborative achievements and identify fragmented delivery of programs and/or services.
Resources from all FVIP partner agencies will be required to assist in the development of performance reporting measures. This may require a review of current data collection and consultation across the community and government sectors to develop meaningful measures. Discussion of current and anticipated reporting requirements and monitoring processes could be undertaken by the FVIPCC.
The full recommendations from the Plan should be considered by the FVIPCC in addition to the recommendations stemming from this review that are identified in the next section of this report.