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Issue #1918      June 8, 2020

Domestic violence inquiry a sham

A Senate Committee inquiry into domestic violence closed three months ahead of schedule, incredibly without calling for submissions or holding public hearings. It didn’t even issue a media release.

The Senate called the inquiry on 26th February, just one week after the horrific murder of Hannah Clarke and her three children. It had until 13th August to report.

It released a majority report, supported by the three Labor Party members, the two Liberal Party members and the one Australian Greens member. Rex Patrick, Centre Alliance, issued a dissenting, minority report.

Women’s advocacy groups, the Law Council and many others were stunned by the unexpected and premature closure of the inquiry. They were even more shocked to read it. The majority report did not fulfil the requirements of the terms of reference.

The terms of reference were quite clear: they were to report “on domestic violence with particular regard to violence against women and their children.”

The Australian Greens had supported the holding of the inquiry, but with reservations. Senator Waters told the Senate that, “[...] we note that the inquiries that this chamber got up – thanks to the Greens moving them – in 2015 and 2017 have still largely remained not acted upon by this government. So we’re not confident that this inquiry would be any different [...]. The government knows what needs to be done.”

The Committee was asked to respond bearing in mind a number of specific reports over the past six years and the implementation of the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children 2010-22.

In particular, the committee was tasked with inquiring into and reporting on:

“immediate and long-term measures that need to be taken to prevent violence against women and their children”

“the adequacy, effectiveness and resourcing of policies, programs, services and responses to domestic violence across the Australian government, state and territory governments, local governments, nongovernment and community organisations, business and the media”

“the effects of policy decisions regarding housing, legal services, and women’s economic independence limiting the ability of women and children to escape domestic violence [...]”

The terms also sought recommendations on how governments can best support and contribute to the social, cultural, and behavioural shifts required.

The terms of the inquiry were extremely broad including a catch-all term: “any other related matters.” The language was clear, it was to be an inquiry into the state of play and what is needed to move forward.

Instead, the majority report reads more like a literature review, going over previous reports and what governments claim to have done. But it fails to address reality, the situation on the ground or what needs to be done, in particular under the new conditions arising from COVID-19 measures.

The Committee failed to invite a single person working in the field who could provide first hand knowledge of the current situation and needs.

Instead of recommendations the majority report lists facts. For example, it says, “The number of women in Australia who have died at the hands of a current or former partner has not reduced significantly since 2010, with between 72 and 105 women killed this way in each year since, and numbers fluctuating rather than reducing.”

That suggests that previous government actions are not having a significant impact. So, why note that and not consult with people on the ground and seek submissions as to what might be done to bring about fundamental change.

The report concludes with a list of twelve questions. The first is: “Has the National Plan achieved what it set out to achieve? If not, why not?” A question that was surely the remit of the committee? It asks but does not attempt to answer this key question.

“How can the government ensure the 1800RESPECT service is fulfilling its vital role?” “How have COVID-19 and the associated lockdowns and job losses contributed to domestic and family violence?” “Has the government response been fast enough, and has it been effective?” “Is there enough support for women with disabilities?” And so the questions continue.

There is not a single answer to any of these questions. Surely that was the purpose of the inquiry!

Patrick in his dissenting report does not mince words. Referring to the failure of the committee to answer the questions he says, “[...] in clear dereliction of duty, it did not seek answers to them.”

“The committee failed itself, the Australian public, Hannah Clarke and her three beautiful children, Aaliyah, Laianah, and Trey, and all victims of domestic violence, past, present and future,” Patrick says.

He makes one recommendation: “The committee should take a long hard look at itself and then resolve to bring a motion to the Senate that would direct it to revisit the issue and do the job properly on the second pass.”

Next article – Amazon forest is being put on sale

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