By Matthew Drogemuller
The Victorian Royal Commission Into Family Violence handed down 1900 pages of recommendations on Wednesday, earning praise from many front-line organisations.
The Commission, launched 13 months ago and headed by Justice Marcia Neave of the Victorian Supreme Court, is the first of its kind in Australia.
The Commission’s Report recommends spreading information about offenders more widely, increasing funding for Victorian police and introducing one-stop safety hubs for family violence victims. It calls for systemic reforms designed to increase cooperation between government and community organisations.
Police practices have also come under scrutiny, with recommendations for greater training when dealing with suspected family violence situations. The Report draws attention to the repeated failure by police to detect instances of family violence when called to the homes of LGBTI couples.
It further recommends establishing a Victorian LGBTI Taskforce to provide advice on appropriately responding to family violence in LGBTI communities. The Taskforce would also review behavioural change programs such as those for managing anger.
LGBTI youth experiencing homelessness due to family violence
According to the Report, emergency accommodation services should be drastically increased, with LGBTI clients currently overrepresented in homeless shelters.
It recommends establishing a ‘blitz housing’ program to accommodate homeless victims of family violence, with increased funding for shelters to deal with the particular needs of children.
The Victorian Government has been called upon to allocate emergency funding to counselling services, including extending support services for homeless children to include young victims of family violence.
The Commission further recommends that ‘Rainbow Tick’ accreditation be required for all government funded family violence services. The ‘Rainbow Tick’ is a standard developed by Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria in the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society at La Trobe University. To qualify for the tick under the proposed changes, family violence centres would need to actively demonstrate a commitment to the health and wellbeing of LGBTI people.
Another recommendation is for a separate evaluation process to determine the responsivity of family violence services to LGBTI people.
Many homeless youths have suffered abuse at the hands of family members, with LGBTI people being disproportionately affected. According to The ABC, LGBTI youth are more likely to find themselves homeless as a result of family violence than the general community, although statistics are not available to confirm this.
The Commission highlighted the fact that young homeless LGBTI people struggle to find emergency accommodation due to institutional homophobia. One consultant for the Commission described the transphobia in refuges as “re-traumatising”, while another spoke of how one agency worker laughed at instances of same-sex family violence, considering it to be a joke.
Under the recommendations, faith-based organisations would need to ensure services are distributed equally to LGBTI clients, with the Commission advising it is against the law for such organisation to discriminate based on sexual orientation. The Commission referred to anecdotal evidence that trans-gender women are being discriminated against by these organisations on the basis that their sexual orientation breaches religious rules.
Although section 84 of Victoria’s Equal Opportunity Act permits discrimination on certain grounds, including sexual orientation and sexual practices, the Victorian Supreme Court has interpreted the provision narrowly.
In the case of Cobaw v Christian Youth Camps (2014), The Brethren Trust refused to lease a campground to Cobaw, an organisation concerned with preventing suicides by LGBTI youth.
The Court held that under section 84, religious doctrines will rarely legalise discrimination such discrimination.
Implementing the changes
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has reaffirmed an earlier promise to implement all of the Commission’s 227 recommendations, despite the projected cost being in the “hundreds of millions of dollars…”.
To keep his promise, Mr Andrews will need to provide further funding to LGBTI communities within a year. He will also need Federal support for some of the changes, including the recommendation that family violence be a ground of financial hardship under welfare schemes run by the Commonwealth.
Mr Andrews met with Malcolm Turnbull earlier this week to discuss the recommendations, which were also on the agenda at the recent meeting of the Council of Australian Governments.
Andrews said the Report must lead to changes at a national level, describing the cost of implementing the recommendations as “an investment”.
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