Male fury against women and kids continues as Senate inquiry ends in whimper

By Amber Schultz

May 22, 2020

CPSU points the finger at Services Australia’s insecure workforce for contributing to the government’s unlawful robodebt scheme.
CPSU points the finger at Services Australia’s insecure workforce arrangements for contributing to the government’s unlawful robodebt scheme. (Image: Adobe/Rafael Ben-Ari)

Senate committee inquiry into domestic violence, established after the murder of Hannah Clarke and her three children in February, wrapped up three months early Wednesday without any submissions or public hearings.

One woman is killed every nine days by a partner, while one in six women have experienced physical or sexual violence from a current or previous partner they lived with.

Advocates say it’s yet another example of domestic violence experts being dismissed and ignored, with a lot of the answers already out there — if only the government would care to listen.

Here are some of the tactics the government could have taken instead of investing in another inquiry into domestic violence.

Increase accountability

In March, the Australian Women Against Violence Alliance developed five urgent actions for women’s safety which they presented to the ministers of women’s safety. The report was then put to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG)… where it was ignored.

Women’s Safety NSW CEO Hayley Foster, who worked on the recommendations, told Crikey the government had a history of being dismissive toward domestic violence experts.

“We’ve had inquiry after inquiry … as a sector, we don’t feel like the government is responding. How accountable is the government in listening to and implementing recommendations?” she said.

Australia’s national plan to reduce violence against women and their children is vague, Foster said. “It has no measurable targets, and it’s all very aspirational,” she said.

Planned strategies include “promoting community involvement” and “support specialist domestic violence and sexual assault services to deliver responses that meet needs”.

“When we come to hold the government accountable to the record, they can say, ‘Look, we did all these great things’,” Foster said.

Queensland University of Technology domestic violence senior lecturer Bridget Harris told Crikey some of the findings in the inquiry report had already been well addressed.

The committee recommended the national plan look into whether there was enough support for women with disabilities and women and children from Indigenous and non-English speaking communities.

“We don’t need to explore that further, we know now,” Harris said. “There’s not enough support. We need to support culturally appropriate resources for Indigenous communities — the National Family Violence Prevention and Legal Services Forum [which focuses on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities] is massively underfunded.”

Invest in evidence-based solutions

Another huge problem, Foster said, was no one was putting their money where their mouth is.

“We had the prime minister stand up and talk about how devastated he was and the country was [about Clarke’s murder], and acknowledged the system failed her, so we were expecting an announcement … there was again no announcement, and no new funding [in response to the murders],” she said.

Five years ago, an economic analysis into domestic violence found it cost Australia $21.7 billion a year, with governments bearing the second-biggest cost burden after victims.

Foster thinks it’s time another analysis was commissioned: “We need to investigate the size of the investment put into this … We need to see the cost-benefit analysis in investing — or failing to invest — in domestic violence services.”

Monash University Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre director Kate Fitz-Gibbon told Crikey it was questionable whether the inquiry would have unearthed anything new.

“What it could have done however is recommit to implementing outstanding recommendations and ensuring the sector is resourced adequately to prevent and respond to family violence across Australian communities,” she said.

Focus on COVID-19

Most of the information about domestic violence prevention is out there — it’s just being ignored. One knowledge gap the inquiry could have addressed, however, is domestic violence in the face of a pandemic.

“I’m really surprised the committee didn’t look into COVID-19,” Harris said. “There are more people being affected by domestic violence for the first time, and an escalation in people dealing with it.”

As lockdown restrictions are relaxed, support services are likely to see a surge in requests of help as people are able to reach out. Perpetrators will struggle to deal with the loss of control, and may escalate abuse, she said.

“There are so many more challenges [during a pandemic]. It’s a complicated situation … we can build on our knowledge of times of crisis and pandemics.”

This article is curated from our sister site Crikey.

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