Royal Commission into Family Violence
14 April 2016
13 April 2016
MS RYAN (Euroa) — I welcome the opportunity to also contribute to debate on this motion to take note of the Royal Commission into Family Violence report. There is no doubt that it is a very extensive report, a significant body of work, and it is impossible in just 10 minutes to do justice to all 227 recommendations. The undertaking has taken more than a year, and I recognise in particular the work of the Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence and also her counterpart, a member for Southern Metropolitan Region in the other place, Georgie Crozier. All political parties and all levels of government have thrown their support behind efforts to address the terrible scourge of family violence. As others have already stated, hundreds of survivors gave evidence to the royal commission but it was the experiences of Rosie Batty and her son Luke which bought these issues so dramatically and tragically into the spotlight.
The commission has stated categorically in its report that family violence against women and children is deeply rooted in power imbalances, reinforced by gender norms and stereotypes. We all have a responsibility to address those imbalances when we see them in our workplaces, in our communities and in our homes, but there are other factors too, as the commission has noted, such as intergenerational abuse and trauma, exposure to violence as a child, social and economic exclusion, financial pressures, drugs and alcohol and mental illness, and addressing these issues requires more than just attitudinal change. Nor should we forget just how far family violence reaches. As many have said, it is not tied to just one socio-economic group. It affects our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, it affects our LGBTI community, particular cultures, particular age demographics and in some cases, although nowhere near as frequently as with women and children, it can affect men.
I welcome the investment that has been announced today by the government. It is a step towards implementing the recommendations of this report. I also note the significant work the former coalition government undertook in this space. I also wish to recognise the commitment given by the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of The Nationals to continue to work with the Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence to confront this enormous problem. In 2012 the coalition released an action plan called Everyone has a Responsibility to Act, which increased government spending to $90 million a year, and by the time it left office, funding for initiatives to prevent family violence had doubled to $140 million a year. We also implemented a number of law reforms to improve the effectiveness in particular of intervention orders and employed an additional 1900 police during our term of government, which of course allowed Victoria Police to triple the number of family violence response units. As the member for Rowville noted earlier, that had a significant impact on the reporting of family violence and the crime statistics.
The commission has placed an emphasis on policing, including recommendations to improve the supervision of intervention orders and the introduction of a centralised resourcing model that would see family violence dealt with like road policing. Without additional resources, police are going to struggle to implement those recommendations, and I think there is a risk that other areas of policing will suffer, whether that is road safety, crime prevention or the policing of drug traffickers. It is a cause for significant concern that police numbers on the front line have decreased over the past 16 months, and I do note that the government has flagged in its announcements today that it will be making additional resources available in the state budget, so I am very much looking forward to seeing the detail of that investment.
The total number of regional police, though, where most general duties police officers are located, fell from 9840 sworn members in November 2014 to 9689 in December 2015. Meanwhile of course, as we know, Victoria's population is growing at 100 000 people per year and country communities in particular are feeling the impact that those cuts to frontline policing have had. The inadequacy of police resources to respond to family violence in rural and regional communities was particularly highlighted by Goulburn Ovens Murray Integrated Family Violence Services in its submission to the commission. I also note the comments from the secretary of the Police Association Victoria, Ron Iddles, in recent days, who believes that an additional 100 000 police will be needed over the next five years if Victoria Police are to have any hope of implementing the commission's recommendations.
In 2013–14 the 10 local government areas with the highest rates of family violence incidents reported to police per 100 000 people were outside metropolitan Melbourne. My electorate covers three of those areas: Campaspe, Benalla and Greater Shepparton shires. To say that serious service gaps exist right across country Victoria would be an understatement. Last year the Centre Against Violence, which is based in Wangaratta but delivers outreach services to Benalla, provided crisis care to 329 women, including support to apply for an intervention order, support at court, risk assessment, safety planning and legal and medical advocacy. Crisis accommodation was provided to 161 women and their children in the form of refuge and motel stays. When women and children are safe and the legal supports are in place, the centre cares for their housing, food, education and medical needs, and then can refer them to the recovery counselling team. Counselling was accessed by 161 women in the past year, including 28 Aboriginal women, 2 Torres Strait Islander women and 18 women who identified as being culturally and linguistically diverse.
Across country Victoria demand for services is growing, and I noted in volume 5 of the commission's report that it spoke about some of the challenges facing rural and regional communities in particular and acknowledged that the geographical and social isolation that country communities face is one of their greatest difficulties. That isolation makes it so much more difficult for people fleeing from family violence, to access support. The commission has recommended establishing 17 support and safety hubs, one in each Department of Health and Human Services region, by July 2018, which would act as a one-stop shop for those seeking support. The Leader of The Nationals also touched on this issue, and I note that today the government has announced $5 million to begin the implementation of this recommendation. However, these regions cover large geographical areas in country Victoria and careful consideration needs to be given to their placement of those hubs in country Victoria to ensure that communities like Benalla are not overlooked in the rollout.
We also need to ensure that these hubs are not funded to the detriment of existing networks in regional areas. In its submission to the royal commission, the Benalla Family Violence Prevention Network highlighted that there are no tertiary services being delivered from Benalla. It has called for a dedicated office to be based in town to support the community, and I would love to see the government fund that through the investment announced today.
Typically, services within the Ovens Murray Department of Health and Human Services area end up being delivered from Wodonga or, as is the case with family violence services, from Wangaratta, leaving very big gaps for Benalla. That is even worse in the Western District, where Warrnambool is at one end and 3 hours north there are communities living in the Mallee. It is I think impossible for one support hub to achieve the purpose and the goals of people living in these areas.
The vulnerability and safety of those attending court to give evidence was one significant focus of the royal commission, and in my remaining time I want to talk quickly about a local initiative called K9. The commission talks about a 2010 survey of 25 children and young people who attended the Children's Court. Every one of those children described it as a scary experience. I am pleased that the Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence is sitting at the table because, as I mentioned, locally we have a program which uses trained dogs to support survivors of family violence and, in particular, children, through that process. The dogs provide a source of comfort and stability when kids have to go back on more than one occasion. I would love the government to investigate that further.
There is not one member of this house who does not want to see family violence stamped out. I hope this report is a significant step towards achieving those goals.