New agencies, information sharing to tackle family violence

By David Donaldson

November 25, 2016

Information sharing rules will be updated and four new bodies created to improve Victoria’s family violence response, under a ten year plan released by the state government on Thursday.

The government will bring data sharing reforms to ensure a perpetrator’s right to privacy does not outweigh a victim’s right to safety. Legislation to be introduced in early 2017 will develop a specific family violence information-sharing regime and create a ‘trusted zone’ of organisations that can request information from each other for risk assessment and management of victim survivors.

The plan outlines how the government will implement the 227 recommendations made by Australia’s first Royal Commission into Family Violence that it committed to earlier this year.

A network of at least 17 support and safety hubs will be created around the state as a place where victims can access support and allowing the sharing of information with relevant agencies at the point when women and children are assessed as being at risk. They will be a visible contact point for victim survivors and will provide the community with access to highly skilled workers that are integrated into the broader social service and justice systems.

A statewide central information point will provide up-to-date information to assist services in risk assessment and management. The CIP will be made up of a co-located team of representatives from key government departments. It will provide information to support and safety hubs and other prescribed organisations to better improve risk assessment.

The plan includes some machinery of government additions. The government will create:

  • A co-ordination agency which will oversee the operation of the support and safety hubs;
  • A prevention agency with dedicated funding focusing on providing advice on best practice;
  • A Centre for Workforce Excellence, which will lead initiatives designed to boost the capabilities of specialist family violence, primary prevention and social service workforces by playing a key role in research, identifying core skills and capabilities across workforces, promoting best practice and contributing to the development of formal workforce training.
  • The Victorian Centre for Data Insights will change the way that government collects information and will build new capabilities to analyse data to protect families at risk.

Current approaches to information sharing between agencies — which can see important information distributed across different organisations, preventing any single actor from being aware of the full range of risks — were highlighted as a hindrance by Victoria’s Royal Commission into Family Violence.

The new legislation will be drafted with simplicity and clarity in mind, as was suggested by the royal commission. The government wants to ensure the law is clear and succinct so it can be effectively applied by front-line workers. At present, risk aversion due to incorrect perceptions about legislative privacy restrictions often leads to poor information sharing decisions. Though while the government believes simpler laws will be easier to apply, both the Victorian and New South Wales privacy commissioners have previously said the problem is attitudinal and not in the law.

Although the new regime will recalibrate the balance of a victim survivor’s right to safety and a perpetrator’s right to privacy in favour of the victim, the legislation will displace existing privacy protections “only to the extent necessary and also preserve victim survivors’ control over sharing of their information.”

The plan includes a range of other initiatives to deal with family violence:

  • Recruiting new specialist family violence workers to support women and their children access services they need to stay safe and get back on their feet;
  • Investing a further $218 million in social housing and private rental assistance, bringing housing investment to $600 million since the royal commission report;
  • Strengthening intervention orders, tighten up the bail process, and allow for the better sharing of information so a victims right to safety isn’t trumped by a perpetrators right to privacy;
  • Providing specialist training to Victoria Police officers who play a critical role in responding to family violence and upgrade our courts to provide greater security for victim survivors;
  • Initiating a primary prevention strategy, alongside a state-wide behavioural change campaign, to help stop family violence happening in the first place.

This follows a $572 million investment in tackling family violence in the Victorian Budget 2016/17. A 10 Year Investment Plan will be released in March 2017 detailing the further funding needed to implement the government’s reforms.

More information is available on the ten year plan website.

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