Law to be strengthened on family violence

Offenders who breach personal protections injunctions would face up to two years jail or a fine of more than $20,000 or both. AAP

The Turnbull government has announced it will strengthen the law relating to family violence, ahead of the Council of Australian Governments discussing the issue at its meeting on Friday.

It will make it a crime to breach personal protection injunctions issued by federal family courts, giving police the authority to immediately charge offenders for a breach instead of victims having to apply to the court for action.

Criminalisation is seen as putting a major deterrent into the system.

Offenders who breach personal protections injunctions would face up to two years jail or a fine of more than A$20,000 – or both.

The government said in a statement that the new offence would send a message that “family violence is not a private matter – it is criminal”. Victims would also be saved the cost of taking proceedings to enforce an injunction, it said.

The new offence is part of an exposure draft of legislative amendments to the Family Law Act, which also include enhancing the capacity of state and territory courts to handle family law matters to reduce delays.

The proposed amendments address recommendations from several reports, and further action will be looked at.

While clashes over climate policy and energy security will provide the headlines of the COAG meeting, domestic violence and the often-related issue of homelessness are among the significant items on the agenda.

The Turnbull government also has said it will provide $117.2 million for frontline services for the homeless in the 2017-18 budget.

The announcement has been brought forward ahead of the May budget “to give providers of frontline homelessness services the certainty they need to get on with their work of helping some of our most vulnerable Australians”, the government said.

The money is for one year – from July next year to June 2018.

The government said about 85,000 people, especially women and children affected by domestic violence and vulnerable young people, would be supported by 757 services through the Transitional National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness. This agreement has been extended to June 2018 while long-term reforms are worked on.

Earlier this week leaders of more than 200 community groups released an open letter to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull calling on him to intervene urgently “to avert the human, economic and policy disaster that will occur” if the partnership agreement was defunded next year.

Meanwhile, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews will press the case that employment standards should be adjusted to give workers an entitlement to family violence leave.

This is currently before the Fair Work Commission (FWC). The ACTU’s claim is for ten days of paid domestic violence leave to be inserted in all modern awards. The federal government’s position is that it is “closely monitoring all aspects of the process” in the FWC.

Andrews also says a Medicare item should be tailored to support the health needs of those that have suffered domestic violence.