The Royal Commission into Family Violence handed down its report and recommendations at the end of March 2016. The Victorian Government committed to implementing all 227 of the recommendations and subsequently released its 10-year reform plan, Ending Family Violence: Victoria’s Plan for Change, in November 2016 and the first Family Violence Rolling Action Plan 2017–2020 in May 2017.1 These documents comprise the government’s implementation plans for the reform. The 10-year reform plan sets out a vision for the future ‘where all Victorians are safe, thriving and living free from family violence’.2
There has been substantial progress since the Royal Commission
Much has changed since the Royal Commission handed down its report and recommendations. The Monitor’s consultations throughout 2020 and submissions from government and non-government organisations and individuals have highlighted these key areas of progress. Selected quotes from submissions are presented throughout this section to illustrate stakeholder perspectives, while changes in funding, demand and service delivery over the past five years across different areas of the reform are also illustrated in Figure 1.1 (see bottom of page).
Funding as a foundation of the reform
The Victorian Government has made an unprecedented investment in family violence since the Royal Commission, with $2.9 billion allocated across successive budgets. The funding allocation not only reflects the government’s commitment to addressing family violence but is a key foundation supporting the transformation of the system to meet the needs of victim survivors and prevent family violence.
“…the $2.9 billion investment in development and services in the five years that followed represents a significant step forward in addressing unmet need for services and making the systemic changes that will underpin the achievement of better outcomes.”
— Victorian Council of Social Service
The 2020/21 Victorian Budget provided a further $238 million for family violence and gender equality initiatives including:
- family violence service delivery
- therapeutic interventions — $87.3 million
- perpetrator accountability — $10.7 million
- Central Information Point — $7.9 million
- family violence refuge responses — $18.2 million
- court responses to family violence — $1.9 million
- primary prevention
- continuation of Respectful Relationships in schools and early childhood settings — $37.5 million
- prevention and early intervention with culturally diverse communities — $9.7 million
- gender equality programs — $16.9 million
- employment pathways for women, including building the family violence and sexual assault workforces — $16.6 million
- continued implementation of the Family Violence Multi-Agency Risk Assessment and Management (MARAM) Framework and information-sharing scheme — $2.7 million
- responding to elder abuse and addressing social connections — $6.7 million
- further family violence measures to respond to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic — $20.4 million
- Family Violence Reform Implementation Monitor — $1.6 million.
An additional Specialist Family Violence Court has also been funded as part of the Wyndham Law Courts development.
The 2020/21 Victorian Budget also included significant investment in housing, mental health services, childcare, maternal and child health services, and women’s employment initiatives, which will benefit Victorians who are experiencing, or at risk of experiencing, family violence.
Legislation as architecture of the reform
Substantial law reform has been undertaken in Victoria since the Royal Commission, spanning technical amendments to procedures and offences through to creating new public entities and frameworks. Some highlights include:
- establishing the Family Violence Information Sharing Scheme and MARAM Framework under the Family Violence Protection Act 2008
- amending the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 to require local councils to specify measures to prevent family violence and respond to the needs of victims of family violence in the local community in their municipal public health and wellbeing plans
- amending the Magistrates’ Court Act 1989 to include the Specialist Family Violence Court Division
- amending the Family Violence Protection Act to enable and enhance access to online intervention order applications
- creating the Family Violence Scheme under the Fines Reform Act 2014 and amending the Infringements Act 2006 to include family violence as a ‘special circumstance’ to have fines reviewed
- introducing the Prevention of Family Violence Act 2018, establishing Respect Victoria as a statutory entity
- amending the Residential Tenancies Act 1997, which, for example, prevented tenants from being ‘blacklisted’ for breaking a lease due to family violence
- introducing the Gender Equality Act 2020, which requires defined public entities to promote gender equity in the workplace when developing policies and programs and delivering services to the public
The Gender Equality Act 2020 provides “a strong policy platform, clear vision and leadership in Victoria.”
— Respect Victoria
The MARAM framework is expected to “make an enormous difference to the safety and well-being of victim survivors.”
— Barwon Area Integrated Family Violence Committee
“Maternal and Child Health services across local government are implementing MARAM and Information Sharing into policies and practice; including identification and screening for family violence risk assessment and management.”
— Municipal Association of Victoria
“The implementation of the [Family Violence Scheme] in 2017…has made a real difference for family violence victim-survivors. In particular, the [scheme] has provided a mechanism for eligible victim-survivors to exit the fines system safely and more efficiently.”
— Unpublished submission, Infringements Working Group3
“…the Family Violence Information Sharing Scheme and [Child] Information Sharing Scheme came up repeatedly as positive changes that have made a real difference to the work being done to support victim survivors.”
— Australian Services Union Victorian and Tasmanian Authorities Services Branch
Submissions to the Monitor highlighted the impact of law reforms on the operation of the family violence and justice systems, particularly in relation to improved information sharing, which is leading to better risk assessment and perpetrator accountability.4
Working in tandem with the Family Violence Information Sharing Scheme and MARAM Framework is the Child Information Sharing Scheme, established under the Child Wellbeing and Safety Act 2005. The Child Information Sharing Scheme allows authorised organisations to share information to support child wellbeing or safety. While the objectives of the Child Information Sharing Scheme are broader than family violence, the information sharing schemes work alongside each other to ensure that professionals working with children can gain a complete view of the children they work with, making it easier to identify wellbeing or safety needs earlier, and to act on them sooner.
Dedicated agencies to drive change
A critical mechanism for driving change has been establishing government agencies dedicated to keeping Victorians safe from family violence and progressing primary prevention and gender equality in Victoria, including Family Safety Victoria, Respect Victoria and the Commission for Gender Equality in the Public Sector. Governance has also been refined and strengthened, with relevant government departments having specific branches responsible for overseeing reform delivery and cross-government coordination through the Family Violence Reform Interdepartmental Committee. The establishment of Family Violence Principal Practitioner roles within key departments is also strengthening workforce development and practice transformation.
“Respect Victoria…provides for the first time an institutionalised, research centric framework for planning, implementing and monitoring primary prevention.”
— AustralAsian Centre for Human Rights and Health
The creation of specific departmental branches for family violence strategy, policy and implementation has “resulted in a strengthening of laws and cultural change within mainstream government services.”
— Gender Equity Victoria
Transforming practice within public sector agencies
There have been significant practice changes within public sector agencies since the Royal Commission, driven through a growing acknowledgement that family violence prevention and early intervention is ‘everybody’s business’. The MARAM Framework has been instrumental in supporting this
transformation and was given substantial attention in submissions to the Monitor, with inTouch Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence
describing the framework and information sharing as ‘incredible developments’.5
Practice transformations are happening in universal services such as education, health and mental health, even in advance of rolling out the MARAM Framework in these sectors. For example, since the Royal Commission, screening for family violence in public antenatal settings has increased,6 and the Strengthening Hospital Responses to Family Violence model is changing how hospitals and health services address family violence. In schools and early childhood settings, the Respectful Relationships program is building a culture of gender equality and respect and providing teachers with the skills and capacity to respond to disclosures of family violence.
Police responses to family violence have also changed considerably. In particular, the way in which ‘female victims are treated by police’ was seen to have improved7 because of better training and the introduction of specialist Family Violence Investigation Units.8 Specialist Family Violence Courts, with their focus on early engagement and holistic responses — supported by purpose-built facilities, local service integration and a specialist workforce — have also been welcomed by stakeholders.
Since the Royal Commission, there has been increased collaboration between public sector agencies and community-based organisations. No to Violence9 noted that the family violence reform ‘provided an urgency for greater collaboration between services, Peak bodies and government departments’, while the Victorian Council of Social Service identified that ‘improved relationships and stronger collaboration within organisations is starting to occur’.10 The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in particular necessitated much closer collaboration between government and the sector in order to redesign service delivery to respond to the increased risk of family violence and limitations created by the public health restrictions imposed to control the spread of the virus.
Increased collaboration and the progressive transformation of practice are resulting in improved identification of family violence, earlier intervention, more sensitive interactions with victim survivors and greater visibility of perpetrators.
“…one area that has improved since the reforms began is police responses… and how family violence investigations occur. This is having positive effects in terms of how victim-survivors interact with police.”
— Victorian Council of Social Service
“…the introduction of the [Family Violence Investigation Units] into most Victorian Police stations has been great. Having a specific unit monitoring high-risk incidents, [affected family members] and respondents has meant more understanding of the complexities and nuances of [family violence] and risk leading to a more appropriate response from the officers…”
— Individual, Grampians Community Health
“…Central Information Point is providing access to valuable risk information on perpetrators which has improved risk assessment and safety planning for women and their children.”
— Barwon Area Integrated Family Violence Committee
“Greater collaboration between services has been noted since the implementation of the Commission’s recommendation, which has seen a higher rate of referrals into specialised supports, and hopefully a more cohesive and safe experience for clients who use multiple service systems.”
— Peninsula Health
“In [Specialist Family Violence Courts] taking a holistic approach…our members are reporting marked improvements for their clients, both complainants and perpetrators.”
— Law Institute of Victoria
“…the safety of children is being considered in family violence assessment more routinely. In hospitals this means that children are being considered even if the adult is the patient.”
— Monash Health
Increased awareness and changing community attitudes
The government’s public and visible commitment to addressing gender inequality and family violence, and the considerable work of the sector and
government in the years since the Royal Commission, is progressively improving community awareness of both as broad social problems.
Increased funding for research was identified as integral to improved understanding about family violence,11 while the effectiveness of prevention
campaigns and programs have been credited with helping change community attitudes. Work undertaken by Respect Victoria to evaluate its community campaigns (illustrated in Figure 1.1 at the bottom of the page) shows that family violence is consistently ranked first or second as Victorians’ top priority social issue, and community understanding of the more nuanced aspects of family violence, such as financial control, are improving.
“…community attitudes about family violence appear to be shifting, with a greater understanding that violence is never acceptable and that addressing it is a whole of community responsibility.”
“There is also greater discussion about the causes of family violence and challenging of myths and victim-blaming attitudes.”
— Victorian Council of Social Service
“The advertisements on television, radio and newspapers are important. Raw, real and for all to see and think about. As a viewer the issue is brought straight into our living rooms.”
— Individual, Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council
Government has developed Safe and Strong: A Victorian Gender Equality Strategy, a five-year plan to drive attitudinal and behaviour change in order to achieve gender equality and prevent violence against women. The mid-term achievement report, released in December 2019, identifies progress across a broad range of areas including women’s representation in leadership, education, sports and industry participation, and public sector reforms. The first Gender Equality Baseline Report was released in November 2019 and provides a baseline measure of gender equality that will allow the Victorian Government to measure progress on key gender equality priorities.
A strong focus on the diverse needs of victim survivors and perpetrators
From the outset, victim survivors’ voices and diversity have been strong features of the reform. Efforts to improve the systematic inclusion of victim survivors’ voices, including the establishment of the Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council in 2016, are discussed in chapter 8 of this report.
There have been concerted efforts to reorient towards more diverse and tailored approaches to family violence prevention and response, including
through developing new services for specific communities and expanding existing services to make them more inclusive. Some examples of this work include:
- incorporating intersectionality across the MARAM Framework, including the Foundation Knowledge Guide and victim survivor– focused practice guides
- trialling initiatives that test tailored primary prevention approaches in multicultural and diverse communities, including the Safer and Stronger Communities Pilot, the Capacity Building and Participation Program and the LGBTIQ Family Violence Primary Prevention Project
- funding of prevention projects for Aboriginal communities, including through the Preventing the Cycle of Violence Aboriginal Fund and the Aboriginal Family Violence Primary Prevention Innovation Fund
- establishing the ‘With Respect’ LGBTIQ specialist family violence service model — comprising Thorne Harbour Health, Switchboard Victoria, Transgender Victoria and Drummond Street Services (Queerspace) — to provide appropriate and safe responses for LGBTIQ communities
- expanding inTouch Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence’s service into regional Victoria
- creating a Statewide Disability Inclusion Advisor position at Domestic Violence Victoria, in partnership with Women with Disabilities Victoria, to focus on upskilling the specialist sector
- developing intersectionality capacity building resources to equip specialist family violence and universal services workforces to apply an
- intersectional approach to service provision
- trialling LGBTIQ family violence practitioners at the Neighbourhood Justice Centre and Heidelberg and Melbourne Magistrates’ Courts
- providing dedicated Koori men’s and women’s family violence practitioner services through the Umalek Balit program at the Shepparton and
- Ballarat Specialist Family Violence Courts and the Mildura and Melbourne Magistrates’ Courts
- developing the Nargneit Birrang: Aboriginal Holistic Healing Framework for Family Violence
This effort has been welcomed by communities and their advocacy groups. Stakeholders also acknowledge the collaborative approach taken by government, with a range of working groups and forums established to engage them in developing diverse and intersectional approaches and initiatives.
“Stronger support for vulnerable communities through focus on intersectionality in the MARAM.”
— Goulburn Family Violence Executive
“Efforts have been made to respond to a more diverse group of survivors who have had difficulty accessing therapeutic supports such as…members of the LGBTIQ community.”
— Eastern Metropolitan Family Violence Partnership
“The Royal Commission has provided more holistic, culturally safe, trauma informed, therapeutic services for Aboriginal women, children, young people and men.”
— Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency
“A genuine commitment to listening to victim survivors has been considerably strengthened since the Royal Commission.”
— Eastern Metropolitan Regional Family Violence Partnership
“I found it affirming and empowering to have my voice heard and to use my experience to help others. I felt that at least all the trauma I went through could be used to help others and that made it more bearable.”
— Experts by Experience, Domestic Violence Victoria
“The Integrated Model of Care elder abuse pilots have seen good success in raising awareness and understanding of elder abuse as a form of family violence.”
— Peninsula Health
“Our bilingual and multilingual case managers provide more support to clients than ever before.”
— inTouch Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence
“We see [Umalek Balit] as a significant step forward for Victorian courts in recognising and responding to the unique cultural and safety needs of Victorian Aboriginal communities and improving Victorian Aboriginal communities confidence in the courts and justice system.”
Reform of the scale envisioned by the Royal Commission requires sustained and long-term change. Despite the substantial progress to date, there remains much to be done to realise the vision set out in the government’s 10-year reform plan. The remaining chapters in this report provide an in-depth examination of key areas of the reform, with a focus on systemic issues that have the potential to inhibit its effectiveness and to assess the overall progress against the system limitations identified by the Royal Commission to identify the most pressing areas of focus for the next stage of the reform.
Implementation activity to 1 November 2020
Acquitting the Royal Commission’s recommendations
As of 1 November 2020, 166 of the Royal Commission’s 227 recommendations have been acquitted and 61 recommendations remain in progress, all of which are expected to be implemented by mid-2022 (Figure 1.2).
During the monitoring period from 1 November 2019 to 1 November 2020, 23 recommendations were implemented, with seven of these implemented earlier than their approved timeline for completion.12
Extensions to implementation timelines were sought for a further 15 recommendations that were due to be implemented during the monitoring period.13 These included establishing the secure Central Information Point, extending the Adolescent Family Violence Program across Victoria and the work to ensure refuge and crisis accommodation can meet the needs of children. The impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on implementation progress was cited by agencies in seven of the 15 recommendation extension requests. Impacts identified included an inability to engage with the required stakeholders, staffing being redirected to the crisis response, and the delayed 2020/21 Victorian Budget.
Major achievements during the monitoring period
The understandable diversion of government effort and staff to support the crisis response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic posed a challenge for maintaining reform momentum in 2020. This, along with the delayed State Budget and inability to progress some elements of the reform program during restrictions, have had an impact on reform delivery timeframes. Nevertheless, there has been progress on planned reform initiatives, with a number of significant initiatives — including the opening of the Loddon and Central Highlands sites of The Orange Door (previously Support and Safety Hubs) — delivered during the monitoring period.
Figure 1.3 provides an overview of the more significant achievements between 1 November 2019 and 1 November 2020. Not all the substantial reform activity undertaken during this period, which includes the continued delivery and refinement of existing initiatives, is detailed here. Further information on progress in implementing the reform agenda is outlined throughout this report and in the government’s second Family Violence Reform Rolling Action Plan 2020–2023.
Figure 1.3: Major achievements during the monitoring period — 1 November 2019 to 1 November 2020
The government identified four outcomes for the reform in Ending Family Violence: Victoria’s Plan for Change and outlined its implementation approach in the first Family Violence Rolling Action Plan 2017–2020. A selection of major achievements and milestones during the monitoring period aligned to the outcome areas are detailed here.
Family violence and gender inequality are not tolerated
- Extension of Victoria’s existing seven-year partnership with Our Watch to 10 years in June 2020, through a further $3 million in core funding over the next three years to support national primary prevention efforts and the delivery of Victoria’s Free from Violence prevention strategy and action plans.
- Delivery of primary prevention campaigns:
- Respect Women: ‘Call It Out’ (Public Transport) — November 2019
- Respect Each Other: ‘Call It Out’ (COVID-19) — May 2020
- Respect Older People: ‘Call It Out’ — June 2020
- Respect Each Other: Connection Keeps Us Strong — September 2020
- Sexism and Sport: ‘Call It Out’ — October 2020
- Release of the first Gender Equality Baseline Report in November 2019.
Preventing and responding to family violence is systemic and enduring
- Release of Strengthening the Foundations: First Rolling Action Plan 2019–22 — the first implementation plan resulting from Building from Strength: 10-Year Industry Plan for Family Violence Prevention and Response in November 2019.
- Release of the Family Violence Data Collection Framework in December 2019.
- Launch of the ‘So, what do you do?’ campaign promoting awareness of the family violence sector, and the family violence Jobs Hub, a dedicated recruitment website for the sector in May 2020.
- Incorporation of public sector family violence leave into all public sector enterprise agreements in June 2020.
- Enactment of the Gender Equality Act in February 2020 to address gender inequality and the gendered drivers of violence in the public sector, and establishment of the Public Sector Gender Equality Commissioner.
Victim survivors, vulnerable children and families are safe and supported to recover and thrive
- $21 million in new funding in November 2019 for therapeutic interventions for victim survivors, including $5 million dedicated for Aboriginal communities, with 40 per cent of the funding directed to support children and young people.
- Release of Nargneit Birrang: Aboriginal Holistic Healing Framework for Family Violence in December 2019.
- Statewide rollout of the Family Violence Intervention Order online application form in the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria in June 2020.
- Opening of the Ballarat Specialist Family Violence Court in November 2019 and commencement of Moorabbin Magistrates’ Court as a Specialist Family Violence Court in March 2020.
- Opening of The Orange Door in the Central Highlands and Loddon areas in October 2020.
- Distribution of 250,000 wallet cards and posters containing information about family violence and support services through supermarkets, hotels accommodating homeless people, public housing, rooming houses and residential services in October 2020.
Perpetrators are held to account, engaged and connected
- Start of the new Court Mandated Counselling Order Program in January 2020 at Specialist Family Violence Courts.
- Introduction of legislation in June 2020 amending the Family Violence Protection Act and the Sheriff Act 2009 to enable sheriff officers to trial the service of low-risk applications for family violence intervention orders.
- Articulation of a whole of Victorian Government perpetrator accountability work program in October 2020, including a redeveloped perpetrator outcome domain of the Family Violence Outcomes Framework.
A plan for responding to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic was developed
In addition to planned reform implementation activity outlined here, significant government effort has gone into the response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic during the monitoring period. This activity is described in Chapter 9 of this report.
Figure 1.1 What has changed since the Royal Commission into Family Violence 2016–2020
Figure 1.1: Accessible version
1 The Victorian Government released the second Family Violence Rolling Action Plan 2020–2023 in December 2020.
2 Victorian Government (2016): Ending Family Violence: Victoria’s Plan for Change, p. 9. Available at: vic.gov.au/ending-family-violence-victorias-10-year-plan-change (accessed 4 December 2020).
3 The Infringements Working Group is a Victorian alliance of 38 organisations from the legal assistance, financial counselling and community-service sectors, which is convened by Justice Connect, WEstjustice and Uniting ReGen.
4 No to Violence, submission 33.
5 inTouch Multicultural Centre Against FV, submission 85, p. 2.
6 Royal Women’s Hospital, submission 76.
7 Individual — Cardijn Community of Australia, submission 19, p. 1.
8 cohealth, submission 71.
9 No to Violence, submission 33, p. 1.
10 Victorian Council of Social Service, submission 44, p. 26.
11 AustralAsian Centre for Human Rights and Health, submission 107.
12 Noting that for most of these the original timeframes provided by the Royal Commission had previously been extended.
13 Extensions to implementation timelines were sought for a further 11 recommendations that were due for completion after 1 November 2020.