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Prisoners Aid ACT - Domestic Violence

First of all, I wish this evening to thank Paul for inviting me to say a few words at this meeting of Prisoners Aid ACT. I appreciate all that Paul has done since my election to the ACT Legislative Assembly to help me better understand the good work that is done on a daily basis by Prisoners Aid and its many volunteers, some of whom are here tonight. Thank you for your dedication, your hard work, and your commitment to help both those who are in prison in the ACT and their families.

I was asked specifically to speak this evening on the topic of domestic violence. Much has been said publicly on this topic recently, and this is a good thing. Resilient, happy, functioning families are the backbone of any society, and so violence in a domestic relationship is one of the worst things that can happen, not only to the members of the individual family but to our society as a whole.

Talking about domestic and family violence is important because the message needs to get out, loud and clear, that it is not acceptable. This message is important to both perpetrators and victims. Earlier this afternoon, I heard about a women’s support group that operates in a city in eastern Turkey called Van, with a population almost exactly the same size as Canberra’s.

Many of the women who are assisted by this support group are surprised to learn that domestic violence is actually illegal in Turkey because it is such an accepted part of the local culture. Learning that they are not alone in suffering and then learning that what is happening in their families is not okay is often a huge step forward for these women, empowering them to take appropriate action.

But problems like this are not only found in places like Turkey. For far too many people in our own territory, violence in the home or in personal relationships is commonplace and therefore tolerated. Since 2012, 12 people have been murdered in the ACT; eight of those deaths – which is exactly two-thirds – have been family violence-related. The ACT Domestic Violence Crisis Service estimates that since 1988, an average of three Canberrans have lost their lives each year as a result of domestic violence incidents.

And of course murder is the very tip of the iceberg in this matter, with most of the violence that occurs inside homes and families not going that far. Last year, the Domestic Violence Crisis Service here in the ACT fielded more than 20,000 phone calls to its 24-hour crisis line and carried out more than 1,500 crisis visits or interventions.

A consequence of our increasing willingness to speak out about and to condemn family and domestic violence is that more and more people are seeking help. This is a good thing, but it has nearly overwhelmed Canberra’s frontline domestic violence workers. In the past two years, the number of calls to the Domestic Violence Crisis Service’s hotline, for example, increased more than 25 per cent.

This was one of the many serious problems highlighted in three reports that were released in May last year, all three of which found that the ACT Government’s family violence strategies were characterised by, and I quote the Canberra Times, ‘a lack of cohesion, information sharing, legal clarity, and adequate resourcing’.

The Government’s response was to impose a $30 per household Safer Families levy, which is supposed to be spent on programs that will specifically target these serious flaws. We are still in the first year of the implementation of these $21.4 million family and domestic violence reforms, but I sincerely hope they really work to help prevent violence, support its victims and also help reform the perpetrators.

It is important that we do all three of those things: prevent, support and reform. Too often the only response to domestic violence is to cut and run. But family is far too important to run away from if it can be fixed. I know from personal experience both how difficult it can be when family doesn’t work right and how wonderful it can be when it does.

As I recently spoke about in the Assembly, I grew up in a home that for most of my childhood was plagued by domestic violence. From as early as I can remember, my father would regularly hurl verbal abuse at, as well as beat me, my mother and my four siblings. He would use belts, sticks, slippers and other household items, and he would beat us both before and after school. He would often spend his pay on alcohol instead of allowing it to be spent on much-needed food, and when he was not satisfied with the dinner our mum provided, he would beat her again and then go to our rooms after bedtime to wake us up so that he could continue to beat us. We would cry, and then be beaten for crying.

As a young girl, I made a determined decision to never allow domestic violence to exist in my future family, and, with my kind and gentle husband as a full partner in this endeavour, we have sought to create a home for our five children where peace and love reign. As a consequence, home is the place where we all love to be – working, learning, laughing and playing together.

My advice to victims of domestic and family violence is to get help. Contacting the Domestic Violence Crisis Service is a good first step. They or other frontline workers can help victims know their rights and also what services are available to help them and their families. We have pretty good legislation in place. We have organisations and volunteers ready to help. No one needs to suffer in silence.

My advice to those who are prone to perpetuate such violence is the same: get help. Now! The Domestic Violence Crisis Service also supports those who use violence and abuse, and they can refer such people on to counselling and other programs designed to help people change their behaviours. Religious communities often provide this kind of support and counselling as well.

So often we paint this situation in starkly black-and-white terms, with victims on one side and perpetrators on the other, but as you would know from working with and assisting prisoners and their families, people can change. With the right information, with sincere help and support, people can mend their ways. In many cases, perpetrators of domestic violence have been victims themselves and are merely doing what they’ve always seen being done.

This is where prevention comes in. I am especially grateful for organisations like Menslink, religiously affiliated youth programs and others for the role that they play in helping to mentor young people to help to teach them better ways of living and being.

In the end, all of us have roles to play. Those of us who are parents can model and explicitly teach what it looks like to treat others with kindness and respect. Friends and mentors, coaches and teachers, pastors and priests can all do the same. Thank you for whatever you are doing and will do to help solve this ugly problem, and thank you for inviting me here this evening.

Facts and Statistics

Increases in requests for help with domestic violence in the ACT:

  • Number of calls to Domestic Violence Crisis Service ACT’s 24-hour hotline:

  • 2013–14: 15,661

  • 2014–15: 17,701

  • 2015–16: over 20,000

  • Number of DVCS crisis visits or interventions:

  • 2013–14: 1,210

  • 2014–15: 1,270

  • 2015–16: over 1,500

Domestic violence deaths in the ACT:

  • Estimate for 1988–2012: 72

  • 2012–2016: 8

Safer Families Levy

  • $30 per household in the ACT (though not for public housing)

  • Designed to raise $19.1 million over four years

  • Safer Families package will cost $21.42 million

  • Spending allotments:

  • A full-time Coordinator-General for Family Safety and a dedicated safer families team to lead the whole of government effort to improve outcomes for victims and their families through collaboration, information sharing, awareness raising and working in partnership with the community ($3,070,000). A key priority for the Coordinator-General will be to work with community and government partners, including with members of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community to ensure that services provided are culturally appropriate.

  • Strengthening integrated case management and coordination of services for victims of family violence ($2,606,000).

  • Enhancing the quality assurance and supporting improved decision making of child protection services ($2,471,000).

  • Training for frontline staff right across Community and Emergency Services, Health and Education to support identification of family violence and early intervention ($770,000).

  • Increasing the capacity of specialist drug treatment services to deliver programs that integrate best practice in addressing family violence ($2,000,000).

  • Much needed investment in translation and interpreting services in ACT Courts and Tribunal and family violence specialist services ($1,223,000).

  • A brokerage and bond fund to assist victims seeking to escape family violence with immediate expenses ($315,000).

  • The Domestic Violence Crisis Service and the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre for the vital work they do to support people affected by family violence ($1,246,000).

  • An innovative residential behaviour change program for men who use or are at risk of using violence ($964,000).

  • ACT Policing to assist victims in applying for Domestic Violence Orders ($1,180,000).

  • Support for the first stage of implementation of the Joint Australian Law Reform Commission and NSW Law Reform Commission Report Family Violence – A National Legal Response ($1,457,000).

  • The Director of Public Prosecutions to strengthen criminal justice responses to alleged perpetrators of family violence ($1,363,000).

  • Legal Aid to improve access to legal services for victims of family violence ($1,214,000).

  • The Tara Costigan Foundation for the establishment of the Tara’s Angels Service to provide a free caseworker service that supports victims as they rebuild their lives and break the cycle of violence ($40,000, which includes $20,000 from the Confiscated Assets Trust Fund).

  • A Reportable Conduct Scheme to be operated by the ACT Ombudsman to improve the oversight of how organisations with a high level of responsibility for children respond to allegations of child abuse ($1,336,000).

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