Benefits of and impediments to information sharing

30.4 Information sharing has been identified as an ongoing challenge in ensuring the safety of victims of family violence in proceedings in federal family courts and state and territory courts. As noted in the 2009 report of the National Council to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children (Time for Action):

obstacles to information-sharing by stakeholders in the family law system remain a significant impediment to ensuring that women and their children are safe. Evidence of violence is collected on a case-by-case basis via subpoenas to different organisations, but confidentiality guidelines and legislative limitations on disclosure restrict access to child-protection records, civil and criminal law records and education and medical records. With the exception of the Family Court of Australia’s Magellan Case Management project, there is a ‘factual vacuum’ as there are few formal agreements and communication channels between organisations able to provide this evidence, and neither the Family Court of Australia nor associated socio-legal services have the power to investigate allegations of abuse.[1]

30.5 The National Council recommended that information-sharing systems and protocols should be developed and supported by all organisations in response to sexual assault and family violence. It also considered that such protocols should give primacy to the safety of women and children.[2]

30.6 In March 2010, the Queensland Department of Communities released a consultation paper on the Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act 1989 (Qld). The Department noted that:

Legislation generally allows information to be shared with consent. Also provisions may allow for information sharing without consent in emergency or high risk situations. The balance must be struck between protecting people’s privacy and enhancing victim safety.[3]

30.7 The consultation paper noted that the benefits of information sharing include, for example: the capacity to provide a holistic approach in service provision; assisting non-government organisations to undertake their functions more effectively; and alleviating the inconvenience associated with victims having to supply the same information on a number of occasions to different service providers.

30.8 The paper noted, however, that increased information sharing could result in a reluctance to report family violence due to concerns about how information would be used. It was therefore important to ensure that information was shared appropriately and stored securely. In addition, it was important to ensure that those sharing information were sensitive to any cultural issues that may arise—for example, where the information related to Indigenous people or people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.[4]

30.9 In the following sections, the Commissions consider ways to harness the benefits of information flow between the family law, family violence and child protection systems, while balancing the concerns identified by the Queensland Department of Communities.

[1] National Council to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children, Time for Action: The National Council’s Plan for Australia to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children, 2009–2021 (2009), 104.

[2] Ibid, Rec 6.2.1.

[3] Department of Communities (Qld), Review of the Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act 1989: Consultation Paper (2010), 34.

[4] Ibid, 36.