Queensland’s domestic violence strategy may finally put action to the test

Independent oversight will be a crucial new ingredient in the Queensland government’s vow for stronger domestic violence action. Dan Peled/AAP

Queensland’s domestic violence strategy may finally put action to the test

While the Queensland government’s commitment to taking stronger action on domestic violence is, in many ways, playing catch-up with other states, in one crucial area it could set a new national benchmark on public accountability – to make sure words are turned into real action.

If what has now been pledged is delivered, it could be the starting point for coherent, effective and evidence-based policy, rather than today’s inadequate, fragmented responses after the damage has been done.

On Monday, the Queensland government promised to follow through on all 140 of the recommendations in the Not Now, Not Ever taskforce report led by Dame Quentin Bryce (pictured above, right, listening to Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk at the announcement). All 121 of the government recommendations have been accepted, while the 19 non-government recommendations will be “actively supported”.

Most of the initial attention and news coverage has been on the frontline items, including:

  • changes to criminal law, increased penalties, and considering making non-lethal strangulation a criminal offence, as it’s often a precursor to murder;
  • a trial specialist Domestic and Family Violence Magistrates Court on the Gold Coast;
  • already announced crisis shelters for Townsville and Brisbane, funded for four years;
  • models for three sites of an integrated victim response;
  • expanded domestic violence Legal Aid funding for one year;
  • making the government a model employer, with paid domestic violence leave and other supports;
  • a new Domestic and Family Violence Review and Advisory Board, funded for four years; and
  • AU$3 million as a one-off payment for the national awareness campaign, plus new education resources for children in schools, and more perpetrator programs.

A draft Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Strategy 2015-2025 was also released. This sets out a vision, goals and strategies, and four successive action plans for the next 10 years.

Plans, plans, plans: will this one achieve more?

The new Queensland strategy complements the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022, and the COAG measures announced earlier this year by federal and state leaders. Queensland will also develop a further plan for the prevention of all forms of violence against women, focusing on sexual assault as well as family violence.

These plans will catch Queensland up (other states and territories already having similar strategy documents). Those strategies all have titles like “we need to talk”, “our responsibility”, “a right to safety” or “creating safer communities” and their content is pretty similar. But have they helped to reduce the problem or improve post-violence responses and victim services? We don’t really know.

As we’ve argued before, all of these plans seem well-intentioned. But is there anything truly new or innovative in this latest one, or are we seeing just another document added to the pile from the last three decades?

Important steps to turn words into deeds

But the new Queensland strategy holds real promise. First, it says there will be a Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Council to provide independent oversight and report on progress. Their reports will be tabled in Parliament. This means there can be public scrutiny of how the strategy is working. A governance model that ensures someone is responsible for overseeing and publishing these reviews is a vital step forward.

Second, there is to be a committee of departmental chief executives as well as regional committees to drive state-wide and local measures. This is important, because in the past good ideas have fallen into gaps between different departments. It also recognises the geographical diversity of this state. What works in Brisbane may not work in Roma or Aurukun.

Finally, the strategy promises an evaluation framework, including an implementation review and flagship evaluations. The evidence from these should ensure that things that don’t work lose funding, while successful measures get renewal.

Not just in Queensland, but across Australia, our plans to tackle domestic violence must build in performance measures by which they can be assessed, including with independent, public evaluations. This requires committed resources for the long term – solid evaluations cost money.

The proposed governance and evaluation model would be a real step forward, not just for Queensland but as a model for the rest of the country. For too long, we’ve seen the stack of plans and strategies mount and gather dust on bookshelves; what is needed now is good governance, coordination and evaluation to drive lasting change.

The next test for the Queensland government is how well and independently these governance structures are set up and funded, so we really start to understand what actually works to reduce and prevent this problem.

Ongoing bipartisan commitment from opposition and minority parties is also essential. There may be more chance of that in Queensland than in other states; the taskforce Dame Quentin led was originally set up by the then LNP premier, Campbell Newman.

Announcing the changes, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said: “The time is right for action and I believe the community has the will to change.”

We’ve heard that said too many times before, in all Australian states and by all sides of politics.

But if the extra accountability measures are taken seriously, then it is possible that we could see real progress towards making Queensland – and the rest of Australia – a safer place to live.

Have any questions about Queensland’s domestic violence response or lessons for other Australian states? You can leave them below for Janet Ransley and join in our Author Q&A on Thursday August 20 from 1-2pm AEST.

The National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line – 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for any Australian who has experienced, or is at risk of, family and domestic violence and/or sexual assault.

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