20.80 The ALRC recommends that the Australian Government should collaborate with relevant migration service providers, community legal centres, and industry bodies to ensure targeted education and training on family violence issues for decision makers, competent persons, visa applicants and visa holders. Recognition should be given to the fact that different groups within the migration system may have differing education and information needs.
Meeting different needs across the sector
20.81 Stakeholders supported the need for education and training for all those in the migration system, but noted that education needs to be targeted to meet the needs of different groups. For example, DIAC observed that ‘competent persons’ are ‘expected to be professionals who work with victims of family violence and so have expertise which can inform Departmental decision making’. However, such persons may not be so familiar with, or have complete understanding of, migration processes:
To this effect, it may be possible to review or improve current information in order to assist competent persons and applicants understand particular migration requirements; including the process for making and assessing family violence claims as well as guidelines on how to complete forms and comply with statutory declaration requirements.
20.82 DIAC suggested that due to a large number of competent persons, it would not be possible for it undertake a ‘comprehensive training program’. However, this is a role that could be performed by community and migration legal centres. The IARC argued for continued funding so that it could ‘deliver community information sessions to various organisations, including those that are able to provide statements as competent persons’. If the ALRC’s recommendation in Chapter 21 to repeal the provisions regulating the content of a competent person’s statutory declaration is implemented, this will reduce the need for competent persons to have a complete understanding of migration processes. However, training and education can still be provided to competent persons about the migration requirements and how to complete forms in a way that ensures that evidence is well presented for the visa decision maker.
20.83 In its submission, DIAC noted that it had seen ‘benefits from centralising processing of all family violence claims made during processing of permanent Partner visa applications in a single team’. The ALRC supports the moves within DIAC towards specialised units dealing with family violence claims as this presents opportunities for targeted training of visa decision makers, allowing them to build expertise in dealing with family violence-related claims.
20.84 In relation to independent experts, stakeholders expressed concern about inconsistent decision making by Centrelink ‘independent experts’ (social workers) in the migration context, due to lack of understanding of migration requirements, or different understandings in relation to the nature, features and dynamics of family violence. The adoption of a common definition of family violence across the different areas of Commonwealth laws may help to address this issue. A common definition also provides a platform for training around how the definition is applied.
20.85 In respect to migration agents, the Migration Institute of Australia indicated that—apart from training about the legal requirements—migration agents could be given training to enable them to better address family violence issues with clients in culturally sensitive ways. The Institute indicated that it runs professional development programs in which family violence is sometimes mentioned in relation to certain visa types, while no regular specific family violence module exists in the curricula, the Institute intends to develop such a module. In addition, the Institute stated that it
will collaborate with relevant agencies and experts to provide information sessions and materials to the membership to raise awareness and understanding of these issues to the level expected of customer service officers in the above mentioned agencies.
Opportunities for collaboration
20.86 The ALRC considers that there are opportunities for the Australian Government to collaborate with relevant migration service providers, community legal centres, and industry bodies to ensure targeted education and training on family violence issues for decision makers, competent persons and independent experts. The safety of victims of family violence is better protected if decision makers have a strong awareness and understanding of family violence issues in the migration context.
Information dissemination to visa applicants
20.87 The ALRC recommends that the Australian Government should collaborate with migration service providers, community legal centres, and industry bodies to ensure that information about legal rights and the family violence exception are provided to visa applicants and visa holders in a culturally appropriate and sensitive manner.
20.88 Throughout the Inquiry, the ALRC has heard about the need to ensure that visa applicants are provided with information in relation to their legal rights, the family violence provisions and family violence support services in Australia,
20.88especially at the pre–embarkation stage. For example, the ANU Migration Law Program submitted that:
There is a need for legal information to be made available to visa applicants, including what they can do to get protection and help in the event of experiencing family violence and information specifically about the existence of the family violence provisions. This information needs to be available in community languages.
20.89 In Equality Before the Law, the ALRC emphasised that ‘information about legal rights, financial matters, and domestic violence and community services in Australia must be provided to women who are immigrating both before departure and once in Australia’. The RILC suggested that ‘this could go some way in addressing this underlying issue’.
20.90 In the Discussion Paper, the ALRC highlighted that the provision of information could be targeted to countries where concerns about serial sponsorship exists. DIAC cautioned that ‘any efforts to provide additional information on family violence should be developed in a way that does not stigmatise foreign partners or their sponsors and does not unnecessarily duplicate the information available through existing program and products’.
20.91 The ALRC considers that the Australian Government should consider ways to ensure that visa applicants are provided with information prior to departure to Australia. For example, DIAC submitted that it was open to amending ‘the content of Partner visa grant letters in order to more clearly set out where applicants can obtain information about life in Australia, including the availability of legal services’.
20.92 DIAC submitted that migrants in Australia ‘receive or have easy access to information about legal rights and family violence services through a number of programs managed by the Department’. These include the:
- Beginning Life in Australia booklet;
- Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP);
- Humanitarian Settlement Services Orientation Program; and
- Settlement Grants Program.
20.93 In relation to the AMEP, DIAC advised that ‘course content is developed by AMEP providers and may vary but usually includes general information and contacts on legal rights, family law and domestic violence’.
20.94 Despite the existence of these programs and materials, the experience of some community and migrant legal service providers suggested many individuals remained unaware of their rights and options. The RILC submitted, in the context of prospective marriage visa holders that:
the fundamental problem persists that vulnerable persons in these situations are unaware of their options. They are often in precarious positions because of their subjection to abuse, their lack of English ability, and their fear of social disapprobation.
20.95 The Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA) indicated that, in its experience, information should be delivered in an accessible way—through a variety of formats—taking into account cultural appropriateness and linguistic sensitivity. Such information should be delivered by ‘bilingual, bicultural community-based and/or culturally competent workers and advocates who understand the legal frameworks and the cultural dynamics of family violence, its prevention and methods of support’. Recent studies have also reinforced that education initiatives are most successful when: a range of different media formats are utilised; designed or piloted with community consultation and involvement; and implemented on an ongoing basis.
20.96 The ALRC appreciates that DIAC has in place a number of programs that deliver settlement information to migrants, including in relation to the legal system and the family violence exception. However, there appears to be scope for better collaboration between DIAC, migration services and community legal centres to better ensure that relevant information reaches the migrant community. DIAC’s booklet, Beginning Life in Australia, for example, may not be distributed in hard copy in print format to community legal centres or migration service providers, and therefore, is not available to a segment of the community who are internet illiterate, or who have no access to the internet.
20.97 The ALRC notes that DIAC has a YouTube channel with informative videos on a number of different aspects of the migration process. A video could be produced in consultation with the migration services and the community—with voiceovers in different languages—to promote healthy relationships and information about legal services in Australia.
20.98 As another example, stakeholders suggested that newly arrived on partner visas should be required to take training on respectful and healthy relationships. Such training could be provided in a culturally sensitive manner by community groups, as part of the 510 hours of English classes offered as part of the DIACs settlement programs.
Recommendation 20–5 The Australian Government should collaborate with relevant migration service providers, community legal centres, and industry bodies to ensure targeted education and training on family violence issues for visa decision makers, competent persons, migration agents and independent experts.
Recommendation 20–6 The Australian Government should collaborate with migration service providers, community legal centres, and industry bodies to ensure that information about legal rights and the family violence exception are provided to visa applicants prior to and on arrival in Australia. Such information should be provided in a culturally appropriate and sensitive manner.
 DIAC, Submission CFV 121.
 IARC, Submission CFV 149.
 DIAC, Submission CFV 121.
 Leveraging specialisation is crucial to the ALRC’s recommendations for reform of the evidentiary requirements in Ch 21.
 This is discussed in more detail in Ch 21.
 The ALRC’s recommendation for a common definition of family violence across Commonwealth legislation, including the Migration Regulations can be found in Ch 3.
 In Ch 4, the ALRC makes recommendations about training and education for DHS staff (including social workers) in relation to the nature, features and dynamics of family violence: Rec 4–5.
 Migration Institute of Australia, Consultation, Sydney, 13 October 2011.
 Migration Institute of Australia, Submission CFV 148.
 ANU Migration Law Program, Submission CFV 79; National Legal Aid, Submission CFV 75; Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand, Submission CFV 41. See also R Braaf and I Meyering, Seeking Security: Promoting Women’s Economic Wellbeing Following Domestic Violence (2011).
 ANU Migration Law Program, Submission CFV 79.
 Australian Law Reform Commission, Equality Before the Law: Justice for Women (Part 1), Report 69 (1994), 233.
 RILC, Submission CFV 129.
 Australian Law Reform Commission, Family Violence and Commonwealth Laws, Discussion Paper 76 (2011), 691.
 DIAC, Submission CFV 121.
 Ibid, Attachment B.
 RILC, Submission CFV 129.
 Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia, Submission CFV 126.
 C Poljski and A Murdolo, On Her Way: Primary Prevention of Violence Against Immigrant Women in Australia (2011).
 DIAC, ImmiTV <www.youtube.com/user/ImmiTV> at 9 November 2011.
 Confidential, Submission CFV 152; IARC, Submission CFV 32.
 ADFVC, Submission CFV 26.