Victoria has implemented all 227 recommendations from its royal commission into family violence. So was it a success?
In 2016, the Victorian Royal Commission in Family Violence published its findings after an extensive 13-month investigation. It contained 227 recommendations to completely transform state domestic violence services.
The royal commission included more than 1,000 written submissions, 44 group meetings attended by about 850 people and 25 days of public hearings.
It is widely regarded as the largest domestic violence reform process in Australian history. Over the past seven years, many have turned to Victoria to gauge what a government promise of billions in reform could achieve.
Last week, with relatively little fanfare, the Victorian Government announced that it had now implemented all 227 recommendations.
Does this mean the royal commission was a success?
Read more: The Royal Commission calls for a complete overhaul of services and measures to address family violence in Victoria
Have rates of violence in the family gone down?
With $3.7 billion invested in reforms, it is fair to question what has been achieved. Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this. Rates of domestic violence and violence against women in Victoria and across Australia remain stubbornly high.
Research has found that the severity and frequency of intimate partner violence increased during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. At this point in the reform agenda, many had hoped that the state would begin to see declining prevalence rates.
It is important that the Victorian Government and others do not see the persistently high rate of domestic violence as a failure of the Royal Commission, and the state continues to invest in efforts to address the problem.
Domestic violence is a much bigger problem than any single reform cycle.
What has been achieved?
There is no doubt that much has been achieved in Victoria since the Royal Commission. This is due to the hard work of the Family Violence Sector, advocates and practitioners of victims and survivors, and government funding and commitment, particularly in the sweeping reforms.
Among the significant reforms of the Royal Commission that have been implemented:
the Family Violence Information Sharing Program, which enables the exchange of information between organizations to support risk assessment and management of domestic violence
a new framework to help practitioners effectively identify, assess and manage the risk of family violence
the establishment of specialized courts for domestic violence
the introduction of the Victim-Survivor Advisory Council to ensure that those with real experience are consulted in the ongoing implementation of the reforms
and the creation of Respect Victoria, an organization dedicated to preventing violence against women and domestic violence.
Many of these are national-leading reforms aimed at providing a more connected service system based on the principles of victim and survivor safety and offender accountability.
While it is important to highlight these achievements, the Royal Commission’s reforms should be seen as the first step in a much longer commitment to ending domestic violence.
Here are four lessons we think are important as the Victorian Government plans its next steps:
1. We need continuous strategic vision and leadership
Crafting a coherent reform agenda from the sheer size of the recommendations was a daunting task. There were many problems in the early implementation phase. This has involved a cross-cutting approach to reform at the expense of an overarching strategic delivery approach.
Strong leadership is now critical to ensure women’s safety remains a key government concern as we emerge from the pandemic. Victim survivors can now access a better connected system compared to seven years ago, and the risks they face should now be more apparent to practitioners. But there is no doubt that violence continues at unacceptable rates.
2. We must not lose sight of prevention
The Royal Commission’s recommendations were heavily geared towards response measures. That is, how to respond to domestic violence once it has occurred.
Prevention, on the other hand, includes work aimed at preventing violence in the first place. While it has been the focus of a few recommendations, it is absolutely necessary.
Addressing the root causes of violence must be at the forefront of future efforts. Prevention is one of four pillars in the National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children. To align with the national plan, next steps in Victoria must focus on whole-of-society prevention and early intervention, alongside the need to build a system that supports recovery and healing for victims and survivors.
3. We need a coordinated, national approach
A key challenge in combating domestic violence is its complexity. Domestic violence intersects with many other problems such as mental health, homelessness, alcohol and drug use. Responding to domestic violence can affect many different government departments, agencies and jurisdictions.
Such complexity requires a coordinated approach, led at the national level, but with significant commitments of resources from each state and territory.
The national plan, which is bipartisan, will hopefully guide and coordinate much-needed ongoing action.
4. We must draw attention to child victim survivors
The Royal Commission’s report described children as “silent victims” of domestic violence.
There were few recommendations aimed directly at improving the response to children who are victims of domestic violence. Moving forward, it is crucial that children are seen as victim-survivors in their own right.
To achieve this, we need to train practitioners and devote more resources to services aimed at children and young people who have experienced domestic violence.
We will not eliminate violence in one generation without a clear focus on children and young people.
These overarching lessons only scratch the surface of what can be learned from this world-leading commitment to ending domestic violence.
Last year was another terrible year for violence against women. Male violence kills a woman every six days in Australia. We have to do better.
The national plan and ongoing commitments from state governments give us a good chance of reducing that number, but work must be driven by transformative vision, funding commensurate with the scale of the crisis, and greater involvement of victims and survivors to reduce it inform policy and practice.
Read more: A new national plan aims to end violence against women and children ‘within a generation’. Can it succeed?