On 19 May 2020, the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee (“the Committee”) released its final report on the inquiry into domestic violence with particular regard to violence against women and their children (“the Inquiry”). The Commonwealth Senate had referred the Inquiry to the Committee on 26 February 2020. The Committee was to publish its final report by August 2020.
The Committee was to investigate:
The National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022 (“The National Plan”) is defined on paragraph 1.15 of the report as:
“a 12 year strategy designed to coordinate the efforts of governments at all levels, and the non-government sector, to ‘make a significant and sustained reduction in violence against women and their children’... The [National] Plan seeks to improve the effectiveness of government action by providing a national ‘overarching mechanism’ for coordination of programs, campaigns and service provision in the areas of family violence and sexual violence.”
The National Plan was released in February 2011, and sets out a framework for action over 12 years to be implemented in four three-year plans.
The First Action Plan (2010-2013) focused on establishing the foundations for long term change. It included actions to establish essential, national-level infrastructure in order to inform future policy and services in reducing domestic violence. The Second Action Plan (2013-2016) focuses on how the governments were to move forward in addressing the crimes of domestic and family violence and sexual assault. Under the First and Second Action Plans, the government:
The Third Action Plan (2016-2019) and Fourth Action Plan (2019-2022) focuses on achieving further change and addressing gaps within the work completed under the prior plans.
The 2017-18 Annual Progress Report of the Third Action Plan (“the Progress Report”) published on 9 August 2019 investigates the impacts of the National Plan so far. The Progress Report notes that whilst there has been a reduction in total violence experienced by women, violence in intimate partner relationships, and sexual violence against women have not decreased. However, reporting and help-seeking has significantly increased, indicating an increase in quality and availability of support services, an increase in community awareness, and a reduction in the stigma associated to being a victim.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to national social isolation measures and job losses that created serious concerns to a likely increase in domestic and family violence. In response, the Federal Government has pledged emergency funding to state and territory governments in order to meet urgent needs. The funding is to be directed for things such as:
Currently, violence against women in Australia continues to be a problem. The Committee found that the number of women that have died at the hands of a current or former partner has not reduced since 2010. The Inquiry also found that the governments have achieved significant steps under the National Plan, however, it remains unclear that the campaigns would lead to significant and lasting reduction in violence.
The Committee was satisfied that the governments are taking the issue seriously, but did not believe that another public inquiry is required at the time, and commented that an inquiry would divert attention and resources away from more necessary action. As the Fourth Action Plan rolls out, the Committee suggested that the governments examine whether it is a matter of waiting for current efforts to show their results or if a new approach is needed.
The Committee put forward a number of questions to be considered in developing the Fourth Action Plan, including:
“(a) Has the National Plan achieved what it set out to achieve? If not, why not?
(b) What evidence is there that the initiatives undertaken to date will lead to generational change? When will we reap the rewards of current investment?
(e) Is there enough support for women with disabilities?
(i) How effective and efficient is the governance model in place for implementing the Plan? Are all states and territories ‘pulling their weight’, or are some not investing enough? Are there any areas where more Commonwealth control or coordination may be warranted?
(m)Are there any lasting impacts of COVID-19 to be considered in drafting the new National Plan?”
Senator Rex Patrick published his dissenting report in regards to the Inquiry, criticising the report submitted by the Committee. Senator Patrick argued that the Committee failed to examine the situation in Australia in enough detail, and that its report did not shed any new light to what was happening. He was critical that the Committee submitted its report three months ahead of its August 2020 deadline, and that it did so without seeking submissions and without holding hearings. The Senator concluded by recommending that the Senate revisit the Inquiry to more thoroughly address its terms of reference.
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