In early October, the State Government unveiled Victoria’s Action Plan to Address Violence against Women and Children – Everyone has a Responsibility to Act.
While Loddon Campaspe CLC’s welcomes some of the plan’s positive features, we believe it contains shortcomings.
The plan’s main strength is drawn from Premier Baillieu’s stated intention to promote strong leadership to ensure that government departments work effectively together to support a balance and an overlap between prevention, early intervention and effective responses to violence against women and children. The plan to engage closely with non-government services and communities to develop a co-coordinated, multi-layered, multi-disciplinary strategic response is also a huge step forward in acknowledging that family violence is everyone’s responsibility.
The plan’s inclusion of programs and funding specifically aimed at reducing violence against women with disabilities and/or from culturally and linguistically diverse communities is a significant commitment and will hopefully support vulnerable groups who often have less access to support services.
However, the plan contains no reference to measures aimed at rural and regional communities. The Department of Justice recently released 11-year data that shows that, proportionately, more women in regional areas are impacted by family violence than in metropolitan regions. Police and Court statistics from the four regional areas show reporting rates almost double those in metropolitan Melbourne.
Despite this, the plan fails to boost resources to tackle issues specific to regional populations. While Loddon Campaspe CLC supports the plan’s further $3 million funding for Men’s Behaviour Change Programs, no extra funding was earmarked for regional areas. Across the Loddon Mallee region, there is only one Men’s Behaviour Change program, which is run in Bendigo by our colleagues at the Centre for Non-Violence. Without adequate funding, geography will provide perpetrators with an additional disincentive to engage with programs or to hold themselves accountable for their behaviour.
The plan also fails to address our region’s struggle to cope with outdated Court facilities. The women we support at court who are applying for intervention orders often have to wait in a small waiting room near the perpetrator. In Kyneton, Maryborough, Castlemaine and Kerang there is no waiting room room and in some cases no interview rooms. In this locations we have had to interview women under a tree or out on the street. There is no consideration for safety or confidentiality. This is wholly inadequate. The State Government must address this issue and boost funding for infrastructure if it is to properly protect women in rural and regional areas.
While the focus on prevention is clearly integral to the plan, the relatively small amount of funding allocated towards prevention, specifically towards ‘engaging organisations and communities to drive gender equity and non-violence’ is concerning. In this respect, we support the Domestic Violence Resource Centre’s response to the plan.
The plan’s response strategy lacks a focus on key legal and justice issues and does not provide a funding boost sufficient to cope with an anticipated increase in demand on Courts. The demand flows from the ‘improved identification of women who are experiencing violence’ and an increased awareness of the human right to seek safety. Increasing education of the Magistracy and Court staff in the nuances of family violence and how the Court system can provide a smoother path for those seeking safety is needed.
Despite our reservations relating to a lack of increased funding in rural programs and the Courts’ capacity to respond effectively, the plan does signal a tougher approach towards perpetrators of family violence and improved early intervention approaches to men and boys at risk of being violent.
Overall, despite these reservations, the plan is a positive move towards a state-wide strategy to encourage everyone, including the Government, family violence services, and the Victorian community to take responsibility for acting on this complex problem.