Friday, 1 April 2016

Getting closer to safer families

The Royal Commission into Family Violence handed down its final report, State of Victoria, Royal Commission into Family Violence: Summary and recommendations on 29 March 2016 following 13 months of information and evidence gathering. 

Within the 2000 plus page publication, the report makes 227 recommendations.  The report is seven volumes and 41 chapters, with each chapter addressing a particular theme and set of issues.

Through this much anticipated report, the community hopes to gain a better understanding of the triggers and impact of violence so that Government and community support services can ensure more effective strategies for the prevention of and dealing with the devastating impact of family violence.

Key themes and recommendations

The Royal Commission finds that family violence must be a core area of responsibility for Government, instead of an issue that is addressed only by specialist services.  The Royal Commission calls for a commitment by Government to a whole-of-government approach to stop family violence, which will involve short, medium and long-term reform.  

The Royal Commission describes its 227 recommendations as seeking to '[improve] the foundations of the current system, [seize] opportunities to transform the way that we respond to family violence, and [build] the structures that will guide and oversee a long-term reform program that deals with all aspects of family violence'. 

The Royal Commission's comprehensive strategy for improving the family violence system relies on its recommendations being implemented in a coordinated and integrated manner with the Commission recommending that 117 recommendations be implemented within 12 months; 66 recommendations within 2 years; 18 recommendations within 3 years; and 10 recommendations within 5 years.

The Royal Commission finds that a nuanced approach must be taken to addressing family violence in a multi-cultural and progressive society, such as Victoria.  Government must be mindful of the variety of experiences and backgrounds of people accessing the family violence system, and it advocates for a tailored and adaptable approach to the provision of services over a 'one-size-fits-all' approach if Victoria is to be a leader in the prevention of family violence.

The following themes and their associated recommendations are key components of the Commission's reform strategy:

1. Integration: A major recurring theme in the Report is the 'siloed' nature of the family violence system and support services provided by Government departments and agencies.  This is a significant limitation of the current system.  The Royal Commission highlights that best practice in the family violence system has evolved from people working together and recommends the Victorian Government strengthen innovation in the development and implementation of family violence policy and foster collaboration between different service systems.  On a practical level, the Royal Commission recommends the introduction of Support and Safety Hubs to reduce 'siloing' of systems and referral pathways.

2. Information sharing: Barriers to the sharing of information between government departments, Victoria Police and the community sector are an example of a core area requiring reform.  The Royal Commission recommends removing those barriers through the introduction of a specific family violence information-sharing regime under the Family Violence Protection Act 2008 (rather than under the Privacy and Data Protection Act 2014), and the establishment of a Central Information Point to facilitate information sharing.

3. Data collection: The Royal Commission identified deficiencies in the collection of family violence data and the consistency of data collected.  This impairs the Government's ability to evaluate the mechanisms funded and employed to address family violence.  It also hampers research practices into family violence in order to continue improving the system's response and prevention.  The Report recommends that data be collected and shared about the characteristics of victims and perpetrators and how the family violence system and services respond.

4. Innovation and technology: The Royal Commission highlights the limitation on family violence response caused by outdated information technology systems.  The Report calls for upgrading of information technology systems and innovatively using technology to improve system response.  For example, a trial is recommended for Victoria Police officers to wear body-worn cameras when attending family violence incidents to capture on-site evidence which will reduce the need for victims to repeat their traumatic experiences.

5. Training: The Royal Commission identified shortcomings in the capacity of first responders and universal services providers to identify and deal with people presenting with family violence issues.  The Report recommends family violence training for workers in the health and education systems so they can intervene early and provide appropriate support and referrals for victims, children, families and perpetrators.  The Royal Commission also highlights the need for increasing family violence specialisations within government and focussing on promoting a culture of tolerance and respect in the workplace.

6. Housing: The Royal Commission found that the current response to family violence assumes that victims will leave their home when family violence occurs, however, alternative accommodation and housing options are limited.  The Report recommends  that expanded access to affordable and safe housing and crisis accommodation, introducing more flexibility into support packages and pursuing 'safe at home' measures, where appropriate.

7. Perpetrator accountability: The Royal Commission found that attempts to make perpetrators accountable for their actions are 'grossly inadequate' which results in victims themselves being forced to manage ongoing risk of violence.  Therefore, the Report recommends holding perpetrators to account via behavioural change programs and shifting the onus away from victims to the family violence and child protection system.

8. Legal system: The Royal Commission is critical of the fragmentation between the state and federal family law courts and the complex referral pathways between services.  The Report calls for simplification of court processes for family law matters, focussing greater attention on offences committed in the family violence context and continued work towards fully specialised court proceedings.

9. Community attitudes: The Royal Commission highlights the importance of community attitudes to family violence, which are reflected in schools, faith-based organisations, workplaces and sporting clubs, as an important mechanism in changing attitudes towards family violence.  The Report advocates for family violence to be a core focus of government, non-government organisations and the community more generally.  Government is asked to implement workplace-based initiatives, such as family violence leave provisions, and investigate ways to use regulatory frameworks, such as those relating to occupational health and safety and equal opportunity, to support Victorian employers in implementing best-practice family violence policies.

10. Funding: The Royal Commission calls for changes to the way in which Government budgets and Departmental outcomes view family violence from a funding perspective.  Recommendations are put forward for reform of budget structures and performance measures to ensure that public funding for family violence measures can be properly oversighted and effectively measured.  The Royal Commission calls for the introduction of a Family Violence Agency to guide the implementation of the recommendations, to provide expert advice on research and with the capacity to conduct own-motion inquiries into the operation of the family violence system.

How was VGSO involved?

VGSO acted for the State, including helping to prepare witness statements for over 50 government witnesses, who gave evidence over 25 days of public hearings.  The public hearings culminated with a panel of six Departmental Secretaries and the Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police, and focussed on the future of the family violence system and funding models. 

VGSO also coordinated documents and data sought by the Commission from government agencies.  This involved responding to over 100 document requests from the Commission and the production of over 4000 documents to the Commission.

Terms of Reference

The Royal Commission was charged with making recommendations which:
  • foster a violence-free society
  • reduce and aim to eliminate family violence
  • prevent the occurrence and escalation of family violence
  • build respectful family relationships
  • increase awareness of the extent and effects of family violence
  • reinforce community rejection of the use of family violence
  • ensure the safety of victims of family violence, through early intervention, effective responses and future protection
  • support adults and children affected by family violence
  • hold perpetrators accountable for their actions
  • help perpetrators to change their behaviour.

How did it go about its work?

The Royal Commission:
  •  received over 1000 written submissions
  •  held five weeks of public hearings exploring a range of family violence related topics including, financial abuse, drugs and alcohol, housing, men's behavioural change, diversities of experiences (for example, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, LGBTI and CALD communities), child protection, role of the legal system, intervention orders and information sharing
  • held five weeks of State-wide community consultations with individuals, stakeholder organisations and government
  •  conducted roundtable discussions with stakeholder organisations, experts and government agency representatives.

Need further information?

For a copy of the Final Report, see

For further information on the outcomes of the Royal Commission into Family Violence, please contact:
Joanne Kummrow
Special Counsel
03 8684 0462