ALRC releases Family Violence and Commonwealth Laws Report

The Australian Law Reform Commission today released its second report addressing family violence, Family Violence and Commonwealth Laws—Improving Legal Frameworks (ALRC 117, 2011). Together with its first family violence report in 2010, the two reports provide 289 recommendations for reform, amounting to a major contribution to the Australian Government’s agenda to improve the safety of all who experience family violence.

Launching the Report at Parliament House, the Commonwealth Attorney-General, the Hon Nicola Roxon MP stated, “Today I am pleased to launch this Report. The Gillard Government takes a very strong stance on family violence and child abuse and is committed to improving Commonwealth laws to respond to this issue. As an independent agency, the ALRC continues to deliver highly valuable work for consideration by government, backed up by widespread participation of the community.”

The ALRC was asked to inquire into the treatment of family violence in Commonwealth laws, and to identify what improvements could be made to relevant legal frameworks to protect the safety of those experiencing family violence. Specifically, the ALRC was asked to look at child support and family assistance law, immigration law, employment law, social security law and superannuation law and privacy provisions. The ALRC conducted 110 consultations nationally and received 160 submissions from a wide range of individuals and organisations.

ALRC President and Commissioner in charge of the Inquiry, Professor Rosalind Croucher stated, “The overall touchstone throughout our inquiry was improving safety—both actual safety from harm as well as safety through financial security and independence The net effect of the ALRC’s recommendations will ensure:

  • consistency in understanding and application of the law as a result of the adoption of a common definition of family violence;
  • appropriate education and training for decision makers leading to greater consistency and fairness in decision-making of family violence claims;
  • better identification of, and responses to, the disclosure of family violence, including in service delivery areas;
  • a greater sense of self-agency for those experiencing family violence by being provided information about family violence responses, and being able to act with confidence that such responses will be attentive to their needs; and
  • that ultimately, the safety—physical, economic and financial—of people experiencing family violence will be improved.”

The recommendations in this report are underpinned by seven principles: seamlessness; fairness; accessibility; effectiveness; self-agency or autonomy; privacy; and system integrity. One of the key recommendations is that the same understanding of family violence should be used across relevant Commonwealth laws, promoting seamlessness and effectiveness in legal and other proceedings involving family violence for both victims and decision makers. Importantly, it should also enhance consistency in the treatment of family violence across the legislative frameworks, reinforced by appropriate and regular training.

Professor Croucher stated, “The ALRC heard from many stakeholders that family violence is not simply a private or individual issue, but rather a systemic one arising from wider social, economic and cultural factors. The referral of this Inquiry to the ALRC is part of the Government’s goal ‘to reduce all violence in our communities’. To meet the challenges of such a goal requires enormous co-operation, trust, respect, patience, commitment—and leadership, across many areas of government policy and service delivery. I want to thank the many stakeholders who assisted us greatly throughout this Inquiry, including those who served on our expert advisory panels.”

In addition, the ALRC has developed ‘community information sheets’ that provide a brief overview of some or the recommendations that may be of particular interest to Indigenous people, people with disability, people from a culturally and linguistically diverse background and those from lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or intersex communities. Family Violence and Commonwealth Laws—Improving Legal Frameworks (ALRC 117, 2011) and the Report Summary are available from the ALRC’s website.