Prevention work is often overshadowed by the substantial and more immediate urgency of response activity, and there is an ongoing challenge of ensuring there is sufficient space and focus given to prevention within combined governance structures. The priority given to prevention within the Family Violence Reform Rolling Action Plan 2020–2023 (prevention is one of 10 priority areas within the action plan) and the Family Violence Reform Advisory Group’s specific focus on prevention are welcome. However, we believe there is a need to further consider internal-to-government governance of prevention work across the interconnected areas of family violence, violence against women, gender equality, sexual harm and elder abuse to ensure strong coordination and oversight of effort [relates to action 7].
The Office for the Prevention of Family Violence and Coordination within the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing and Respect Victoria are jointly responsible for leading delivery of Victoria’s Free from Violence Strategy, which aims to prevent family violence and all forms of violence against women (see Figure 3). There is shared responsibility for some Free from Violence initiatives with partners including Family Safety Victoria, the Commission for Gender Equality in the Public Sector, the Department of Education and Training, the Department of Justice and Community Safety and the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions. A cross-government working group, with representatives from a broad range of departments and agencies, supports coordinated delivery of initiatives within government but does not have a decision-making or formal accountability role. The Family Violence Reform Advisory Group and Primary Prevention Sector Reference Group (co-chaired by Respect Victoria and the Office for the Prevention of Family Violence and Coordination) (see Figure 2) provide forums for sector stakeholders to contribute to the direction and delivery of prevention activity relating to family violence and violence against women. The recent inclusion of prevention within the Family Violence Reform Board’s remit elevates prevention within the family violence reform governance and provides an opportunity to strengthen governance over the Free from Violence Strategy.16 The addition of Respect Victoria as a member of the reform board from February 2022 will also strengthen oversight and integration of prevention within the broader reform program given its role as a lead agency for primary prevention.
To further strengthen prevention governance, we believe consideration should be given to the reform board having formal oversight and accountability for the Free from Violence strategy, and receiving reporting on strategy implementation (in line with other reform reporting) to support its oversight role. Under these arrangements the Primary Prevention Working Group should report directly to the reform board rather than the policy steering committee.
Figure 3: Primary prevention activity spans different forms of violence and harm
The diagram shows two overlapping circles, one saying 'family violence' and the other 'violence against women'. Where the two circles intersect there is a line covering the intersection and the 'violence against women' circle, which indicates the scope of Change the story and international evidence base. Another line spans both circles and the intersection, showing the scope of Free from Violence: Victoria's prevention strategy.
In September 2021, the Victorian Law Reform Commission released its report Improving the Justice System Response to Sexual Offences.17 The report makes a range of findings and recommendations relating to understanding and awareness of sexual assault (including within schools through the Respectful Relationships initiative) and the governance of sexual assault reforms. The Department of Justice and Community Safety, in partnership with Family Safety Victoria, is developing a whole‑of‑Victorian-Government strategy to address sexual violence and harm. The strategy will incorporate the government’s response to the Law Reform Commission’s recommendations, delivery of a sexual assault strategy committed to under the Family Violence Reform Rolling Action Plan 2020–202318 and other relevant initiatives, and spans both prevention and response. A Deputy Secretary–level Interdepartmental Committee has been established to govern this work. Respect Victoria is not a member of this group because the agenda has focussed on Cabinet‑in‑Confidence work, with the Office for the Prevention of Family Violence and Coordination representing primary prevention on the committee and engaging with Respect Victoria in the development of the strategy. There are clear intersections and substantial overlap between the scope of prevention effort within the family violence reform and both the forthcoming sexual violence and harm strategy19 and Victoria’s Gender Equality Strategy. There is also a need to formally engage other government partners who are not currently part of the existing family violence reform governance, but who have a role in progressing primary prevention within their portfolios, such as the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions, and Sport and Recreation Victoria. Engagement is required at a senior level to ensure organisational support for the strategies and to provide a commitment to, and accountability for, effort and resources to implement initiatives.
To further strengthen prevention governance within the family violence reform, we believe consideration should be given to the reform board having formal oversight and accountability for the Free from Violence Strategy and receive reporting on strategy implementation (in line with other reform reporting) to support its oversight role. Under these arrangements, the Primary Prevention Working Group would formally report directly to the reform board, rather than the policy steering committee. It will be important that the prevention work being overseen by the Family Violence Reform Board and Sexual Assault and Harm Interdepartmental Committee is aligned, effectively coordinated and is not duplicative. Respect Victoria – as a lead primary prevention agency across both areas – should have a formal role in developing the sexual harm strategy as it relates to prevention, and in its governance. In re-examining the governance structures for primary prevention going forward we expect that the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing and the Department of Justice and Community Safety will consult with their partners, including Respect Victoria, in determining the most robust approach.
16 There has not been a governance body responsible for overseeing and making decisions relating to the Free from Violence strategy (see also section 5).
17 Victorian Law Reform Commission (2021): Improving the Justice System Response to Sexual Offences. Available at (accessed 16 December 2021).
18 Department of Families, Fairness and Housing (2020): Family Violence Reform Rolling Action Plan 2020–2023. Available at (accessed 5 December 2021).
19 A disconnect between elder abuse in the family violence context and institutional abuse of elders (i.e. in aged care) was also raised by one stakeholder, along with the lack of visibility of elder abuse within family violence strategy and policy.
Reviewed 02 March 2022