New agency created to help end violence against women and children
A new federal commission will be set up to combat domestic violence as part of a plan to build on $1.1 billion in budget spending with a new five-year funding scheme for emergency support.
Clearing the way for more spending to be unveiled in this year’s budget, the federal government will release a draft plan on Friday that includes the new agency in the hope it can help drive family and sexual violence to zero.
Women’s Safety Minister Anne Ruston.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen
The draft plan steps up the government’s ambition to end rather than reduce violence, and acts on calls at a summit in September for more certainty over funding.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison promised $1.1 billion for women’s safety in the budget last May during a year of ferocious debate over the treatment of women after former Liberal adviser Brittany Higgins went public in February with allegations she was raped in Parliament House.
While the government responded with an inquiry into the culture of Parliament House and new systems for political staff to make complaints, it has been under pressure to do more for the wider public on violence against women, children and others.
While the government has offered three-year pledges in the past for essential services such as legal support and emergency housing, it has set a five-year period for the funds likely to be promised in the federal budget due to be released on March 29.
Women’s Safety Minister Anne Ruston will release the draft plan on Friday after fielding calls for a more ambitious policy at the September national summit on women’s safety.
The policy will be delivered by two, five-year “action plans” to give support services more time to implement and assess their work, which ranges from housing to legal advice, counselling and emergency help lines.
The new draft also has a stronger focus on Indigenous communities, with two five-year action plans for First Nations people developed by the government’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Council.
The government regards the $1.1 billion spending on family violence in last year’s federal budget as a “down payment” on the expanded measures, with funding due to commence from July 1 this year and to run for five years.
Senator Ruston said in a statement ahead of the plan’s release the persistently high rates of family, domestic and sexual violence “is a national shame and we must focus on driving down the level of violence toward zero”.
“This means working towards national definitions of the different forms of violence to inform and support program and policy design across the public and private sector as well ensuring that all Australians have equal access to support and justice.”
The community will have two weeks to offer feedback on the draft plan but the government has already heard from key groups at the September summit, a federal parliamentary inquiry last year and a series of advisory councils.
The new Family, Domestic and Sexual Violence Commission is intended to operate like the Mental Health Commission, which is chaired by Lucinda Brogden and advises the government on the scale of the problem and the effectiveness of policy measures.
With states and territories reporting differently on family violence and using different schemes to tackle the problem, the new commission is meant to offer a peak view of what is working. The head of the commission is yet to be named.
The government said the new plan would set out four foundation principles: gender equality, Closing the Gap, intersectionality and the experiences of victim-survivors informing policies and solutions.
Our Watch chief executive Patty Kinnersly, whose group focuses on prevention, welcomed the focus on gender equality because this remained a key factor in family violence.
Ms Kinnersly said there had been decades of work on the problem but only really a decade of coordinated effort through national measures in areas like policing, legal support, housing and prevention.
“We are now in a position where this national plan has got every state and government committed, a greater understanding in policing and legal areas, and so forth,” she said.
“I think it’s fair to say there is a lot of work still to be done but it is an evolving piece of work – it’s not something that we can just click our fingers and fix overnight.
“It takes the continued efforts of governments and non-government organisations and the community to really address what’s happening to individuals and how we help people recover.”
Senator Ruston said there had been “a significant shift” in perceptions of family violence.
“Australians [are] now more likely to recognise controlling behaviours as domestic violence and are less likely to excuse domestic violence in all its forms,” she said.
“We now understand there must be a stronger focus on sexual violence, children as victims in their own right, perpetrator interventions as well as the prevalence of coercive control and technology-facilitated abuse.
“Importantly, we are including a specific focus on recovery because we know it is an ongoing process that requires dedicated support to enable victim survivors to be safe, healthy, and resilient, to have economic security and to thrive in all areas of their lives.”
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