Australian Governments Promise to Crackdown on Domestic Violence Offences

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Domestic Violence Ribbon

Welcome, Anthony Albanese, to the ‘national crisis’ of domestic violence offences predominantly – but certainly not always – committed by men against women.

In response to thousands of women, men and children rallying over the weekend against the epidemic of gender-based violence across Australia, our Prime Minister gave a speech – one that echoed a presentation delivered in 2017 by former PM Malcolm Turnbull during which he pledged $100 million dollars from the Federal Government budget to help address the problem. 

During our current federal leader’s speech, he pledged $2.3 billion in funding to address issues relating to domestic violence. 

Meanwhile, New South Wales Premier Chris Minns committed to providing an additional 200 ankle-warn monitoring devices with a view to courts ordering them to be worn by those with apprehended domestic violence orders and/or convictions for domestic violence-related assault offences against them.

Initiatives to combat domestic and sexual violence

Over the past seven or so years, a range of initiatives have been implemented and laws strengthened with a view to addressing both domestic violence and sexual assault.

Two of the most significant initiatives in New South Wales have been the introduction of affirmative sexual consent laws in 2023, which mean that positive affirmation must be obtained before and at each stage of a sexual encounter to ensure the other party is consenting to each type of activity, and a discrete criminal offence has been enacted against coercive control.

Coercive control laws were passed in in 2022, making it the first state to create a standalone offence for coercive control, which makes controlling and abusive behaviours within relationships illegal. The law change has not been without some controversy, however it was passed in recognition of the fact that a very high percentage of intimate partner homicides are typically preceded by coercive control.

Coercive control defined as a pattern of behaviour which perpetuates  psychological, sexual, and other abuse, such as creating financial limits, restricting social, family and friend connections, and restricting autonomy and independence.

People found guilty under the new law will face up to seven years in jail.

Uniformity of laws is required

And while many victim’s advocates say law change is part of the solution, a sharp rise in the number of women killed so far this year, with men alleged to have been involved in their deaths, is a stark reminder that this social issue is not going to be so easily resolved.  

Another issue to consider is uniformity of laws across Australia. Currently the only national consistency is provided by The National Domestic Violence Order Scheme Act 2016 which was passed to ensure that all ‘Domestic Violence Intervention Orders’ and similar Orders, irrespective of which Australian State, or Territory issued them; are enforceable in every Court in Australia.

 Numbers continue to rise 

The number of deaths for 2024 now stands at 27, after a 35-year-old man was formally charged on Sunday with the murder of a 30-year-old woman in Western Australia. The figure is almost double compared to the same period last year. 

While once the statistic was one woman killed per week, now it is one woman killed on average, every four days. 

The numbers don’t tell the stories of these women, although a Royal Commission into national domestic violence might. It would also help to pinpoint where the system – which is supposed to help victims –  is failing them, time and again. 

Royal Commission into domestic violence 

A full Royal Commission might also help to determine funding gaps, and how funding is allocated. The Albanese Government has pledged $2.3 billion on the issue of women’s safety and domestic violence — significant taxpayer dollars, and yet it has been pointed out that even this sum is not necessarily commensurate with the scale of the crisis.

Emergency support workers and shelters often say they simply cannot keep up with rising demand – and that’s a massive problem, given that a considerable number also receive donations and rely on the generosity and good will of the communities they serve.  

The First Action Plan 

The First Action Plan 2023-2027 and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Action Plan were released in August last year with much optimism and enthusiasm. They detail what the Commonwealth, state and territory governments have agreed to do to progress their ambitious target to eliminate domestic, family and sexual violence, specifying a commitment to a 25% annual reduction in female victims of intimate partner homicide. 

The plans take a multi-pronged approach, and do include improving police responses and the justice system, which is vital. Because one thing we do know is that irrespective of whether this is an issue of women’s safety, or men’s violence, horror stories time and again tell a tale of women who had sought help – in particular the help of police – in the weeks and days before they were murdered.

Time will tell if the Federal Government’s National Action plan will work, a key component of which will be transparency and reporting measurable outcomes, in order to ensure that initiatives are actually working.

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Sonia Hickey

Sonia Hickey is a freelance writer, magazine journalist, and owner of 'Woman with Words'. She has a strong interest in social justice and is a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers® content team. Sonia is the winner of the Mondaq Thought Leadership Awards, Spring 2022.

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