Sector stakeholders have consistently reported that the move to the new Family Violence Reform Advisory Group has been a positive development. While there was an acknowledgement of the intent to be inclusive in the early stages of the reform, the former Steering Committee and Industry Taskforce were described by stakeholders as ‘unwieldy’ and operating in a way that did not facilitate collaborative engagement or strategic risk management. In contrast, the new advisory group reflects a maturing relationship between government and the sector, providing a respectful forum for genuine engagement where members feel heard and able to contribute to, and influence, reform activity. There was praise for the co‑chairing arrangements, and although stakeholders acknowledged that quarterly meetings are not frequent enough, sector representatives felt there had been good opportunity to contribute to work out-of-session, with two out-of-session meetings in 2021. In 2022, five regular Family Violence Reform Advisory Group meetings have been scheduled.
Clear terms of reference, and renaming the sector-involved group as an advisory group, better reflects its role in providing expert advice to support government in its responsibility for leading implementation of the reform. Having representation on the advisory group from Dhelk Dja, the Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council and the Statewide Family Violence Integration Advisory Committee strengthens coordination and visibility between these groups and the broader reform effort. There has been consistent attendance by sector members at the meetings during 2021, and this commitment needs to be matched by some government department members, where attendance of the nominated representative has been less consistent. While delegates are usually in attendance, and it is no criticism of their participation, it does create discontinuity. Although the endorsed terms of reference for the advisory group provide for distribution of papers one week prior to meetings, several representatives told us that they would like to have meeting papers further in advance of the meetings, to provide them with sufficient time for consultation within their organisations and networks. Although there is the issue with timely distribution of papers, the advisory group papers are comprehensive and informative so that meetings are focussed and productive. Overall, the engagement and energy of the members is impressive.
In reviewing papers and observing meetings of the primary prevention, perpetrator accountability, MARAM information sharing and workforce, and multicultural sector working groups, there was good attendance and engagement at the meetings, a focus on upcoming activity and a willingness to address issues or provide further information in response to queries outside of meetings. In particular, the primary prevention sector working group provided a strong platform for collaboration to prepare the Victorian delegation for the National Women’s Summit held in September 2021. The integration of sexual assault in a meaningful way within the reform work program has also been welcomed.
While largely positive, our consultations have identified some opportunities to better support sector representatives to effectively fulfill their roles and contribute their expertise within the whole-of-reform governance arrangements. These include the following:
- Ensure advisory and working group meeting papers are provided with enough time to allow members to consult and consider the issues. This is particularly critical for members who represent wider groups (such as the Victorian Council of Social Services, Statewide Family Violence Integration Advisory Committee and the Regional Integration Committees, Dhelk Dja, Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council and legal sector representatives) and who need to consult with their sectors/members to bring an informed position to the meetings [relates to action 1]. Members see this as their clear responsibility and want to be able to do this effectively.
- Improve the coordination between the different working groups that report into the advisory group. Noting that these working groups are still establishing their work plans and reporting mechanisms, and there is some crossover in representation, there is currently limited visibility among some members of the broader work program and the intersections with their areas of focus. Communicating the forward priorities and deliverables – both of the advisory group and broader reform effort – across working groups will ensure their work is informed by, and able to feed into, the whole-of-reform agenda [relates to action 2].
- There is an opportunity to make greater use of sector expertise to drive the development and implementation aspects of the reform work. Several stakeholders commented on the continuing preference for government ’in-house’ work when there is sector capacity and commitment for developing practical and user-centred solutions with government [relates to action 3]. An excellent example of this approach, and the benefits it delivered for financial assistance provided to victim survivors, is provided below in Box 1. The development of a service design model to integrate legal assistance within The Orange Door is an example where sector-led development is underway, with the model being developed jointly by government and the legal sector.
- Sector representative visibility of the whole-of-reform effort was also identified as an area needing further consideration and is discussed in more detail below.
There are some good examples of collaborative governance being employed by departments and agencies in their implementation
There are several good examples of collaborative governance and engagement in the work being led by departments and agencies (see detailed examples provided in Box 1 and Box 2). These ways of working have real benefits for the initiatives being delivered through effectively drawing on the expertise that exists outside government and fostering a sense of shared ownership and accountability between government and the sector. These examples provide a model of engagement that could be utilised more consistently in future implementation across all levels of the reform.
Box 1: Implementation of recommendation 107 – training Victoria’s financial counselling workforce
Victoria’s Royal Commission into Family Violence recognised the crucial role of financial counsellors supporting the safety and financial wellbeing of people experiencing economic abuse, the financial impacts of family violence, and family violence–related debt.
In 2017, Women’s Legal Service Victoria and WIRE Women’s Information were jointly commissioned by Consumer Affairs Victoria to develop and deliver a training program for Victoria’s financial counselling workforce. The program provides financial counsellors with skills and knowledge to recognise economic abuse and all forms of family violence, and support clients to achieve safety and financial recovery and wellbeing.
At its inception, foundation-level training was expected to be delivered to 80 financial counsellors across Victoria and advanced training for 20 senior financial counsellors on legal and technical skills for complex family violence casework, including economic abuse. The training program drew extensively on the expertise of Women’s Legal and WIRE Women’s Information, as well as collaboration with Financial Counselling Victoria, financial counsellors working in a range of settings, and many specialists and subject matter experts.
Vastly exceeding expectations, as at December 2021, close to 300 financial counsellors across Victoria have completed the foundational training program, with 642 attendances across the various modules. The original program of foundational and advanced training was augmented with a masterclass and a leaders’ class. These developed into a community of practice collaborative learning format that supports senior and leading financial counsellors to resolve emerging practice-based challenges relating to the complex intersections of family violence, credit law and family law. Importantly, the program contributed to Victoria’s financial counselling workforce, further developing the knowledge and confidence to advocate for industry and system reform to remove barriers to the safety and financial wellbeing of people affected by family violence. Victorian financial counsellors now play an educative role to the finance, credit and utilities industries on the impacts of family violence and are leading the way across Australia.
The governance approach of Consumer Affairs Victoria empowered Women’s Legal and WIRE Women’s Information to drive the project and was a key determining factor in the program’s success. The approach facilitated ways of working that led to new knowledge and practices and strengthened the inter-disciplinary and organisational relationships that are critical to an effective family violence response system. As a result, Victoria’s financial counselling workforce is achieving positive safety and financial wellbeing outcomes for victim survivors of family violence.
Source: Women’s Legal Service Victoria
Box 2: Local implementation for the Shepparton Specialist Family Violence Court
In establishing the Shepparton Specialist Family Violence Court (SFVC) a local operational committee (the committee) was created to oversee service integration at the SFVC, to monitor and respond to local issues and risks, and to support problem solving between the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria and SFVC stakeholders. The committee is chaired by the Shepparton Family Violence Lead Magistrate and SFVC Manager, and membership includes the Regional Coordinating Magistrate, Senior Registrar, SFVC Practice Manager, Koori Family Violence Practitioners, Victoria Police, Victoria Legal Aid Managing Lawyer and a representative from the local Community Legal Centre and Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service.
In Shepparton, ahead of the construction of safe waiting areas for the SFVC, the committee needed to identify a safe waiting space in the building for affected family members. The committee agreed to do physical walk-throughs of different hearing scenarios, with members of the committee given different roles to test the practicality of the different spaces available. Through this testing with group members, a space in the level two area was identified as the most suitable. Later, throughout the construction process, the committee continued to discuss and influence operational processes and other practical issues such as placement of signage. When the build was complete, the committee organised training and information sessions for stakeholders.
‘The local governance groups enable all stakeholders to make informed decisions about new services which impact them and are in the best interests of the communities they serve. The networks which develop from governance groups grow sophisticated working relationships that enable all stakeholders to tackle emerging issues in an informed, co-ordinated and collaborative way.’
- Managing Lawyer, Victoria Legal Aid, Shepparton
The relationships formed between stakeholders in the committee played a crucial role in ensuring the smooth operation of the court throughout coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic restrictions. The group had the ability to make key decisions and changes swiftly while considering the needs and views of key stakeholders. In September 2021, a snap lockdown was announced for Shepparton on a Friday, meaning no parties would be allowed into court on the Monday. The committee worked together to identify solutions for how the court would operate during the lockdown period to ensure it could continue to deliver an uncompromised model to the community. This included detail on how both affected family members and respondents could still access the court practitioners and legal services as required.
Source: Magistrates’ Court of Victoria
Two other examples of strong collaborative approaches that were raised through our consultations are:
- The development of resources and training for primary healthcare providers in the implementation of the MARAM and family violence information sharing reforms, led by the Safer Families Centre in collaboration with the Department of Health, Department of Education and Training, Family Safety Victoria, Domestic Violence Victoria, the Royal Australian College of GPs (VIC faculty) and WEAVERs (lived experience group). In partnering with the Safer Families Centre, government recognised the importance of utilising external expertise to tailor the resources most effectively for the general practitioner and primary healthcare workforce.
- An assessment of the evidence relating to the Royal Commission’s recommendation that government consider whether Victoria Police should be given the power to make Family Violence Intervention Orders in the field (recommendation 59),9 led by the Department of Justice and Community Safety. Several sector stakeholders who sat on the advisory group established to inform the review praised the collaborative approach taken. They particularly commented on the careful planning, strong communication and responsive consultation that ensured the recommended position was informed by an understanding of practice issues and implications of the proposal for people experiencing the system.
9 Recommendation 59 – The Victorian Government consider [after five years] whether Victoria Police should be given the power to issue
Family Violence Intervention Orders in the field, subject to the recommended Statewide Family Violence Advisory Committee and Family
Violence Agency advising that Victoria Police has made significant improvements to its response to family violence, taking into account
the Commission’s recommendations.