Integrated responses in Australia

Integrated responses seem to offer clear benefits for service delivery to victims, including—importantly for this Inquiry—benefits in improving experiences for victims involved in multiple proceedings across different legal frameworks. For example, liaison arrangements between police and victim support services and co-location of services facilitate victims’ access to a range of legal options and referrals. Another benefit is that such responses enable networks to be formed across services and government departments at a local level, fostering collaboration and communication between key players in different legal frameworks, and providing ongoing improvements to practice and understanding. The precise costs and benefits depend, of course, upon the models adopted.

A number of Australian jurisdictions have implemented or are in the process of implementing integrated responses. In other Australian jurisdictions, however, the ‘integrated responses’ that exist are mostly small-scale operations, focused on liaison between the police and victim support services. It is clearly desirable for integrated responses to be developed in close consultation with local networks and leaders, in order to reflect the diversity of needs and strengths in different geographical areas. The Commissions consider, however, that Australian state and territory governments should have, or continue to have, responsibility for fostering such integrated responses.

The Commissions note that there are many ways in which governments may foster the development of integrated responses. These include:

  • the development of strategic plans;
  • the creation of statewide steering committees;
  • the creation of model information sharing protocols and/or amending information sharing legislation;
  • the provision of training and education; and
  • the funding of locally developed initiatives.

Key features

At this stage, the Commissions also consider that there is strong evidence that integrated responses should, at a minimum, have a number of key features. These are: common policies and objectives; mechanisms for inter-agency collaboration, including those to ensure information sharing; provision for victim support, and a key role for victim support organisations; training and education programs; and provision for data collection and evaluation.

There is also a role for the federal government in promoting integrated responses, as part of a national agenda for action on family violence. The Commissions note that this may take a number of forms. For example, much could be learnt from other Australian jurisdictions in the development of integrated responses, and the federal government could facilitate the transfer of this knowledge between jurisdictions. This could be done through existing mechanisms such as the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General and the Ministerial Council for Police and Emergency Management, or through more informal mechanisms. A national resource manual for integrated responses could be one way of promoting integrated responses.

The Commissions note that the Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse has a very useful Good Practice Database (and Coordinator) that provides helpful information about such responses. This may be a logical starting point for training and the transfer of knowledge between jurisdictions. Alternatively, this may be a function for the National Centre of Excellence recommended in Time for Action or the expert panel and reference group recommended by the Family Law Council.

Proposal 19–1 State and territory governments should establish and further develop integrated responses to family violence in their respective jurisdictions, building on best practice. The Australian Government should also foster the development of integrated responses at a national level. These integrated responses should include the following elements:

  1. common policies and objectives;
  2. mechanisms for inter-agency collaboration, including those to ensure information sharing;
  3. provision for legal and non-legal victim support, and a key role for victim support organisations;
  4. training and education programs; and
  5. provision for data collection and evaluation.

Maintaining momentum

Integrated responses often depend on the energy, enthusiasm and expertise of the people originally involved, and sustaining them when those people move on is a key challenge.

One key aspect for retaining momentum is leadership. The Commissions have heard from stakeholders that committed leadership is necessary to drive integrated (and other) responses forward. One model, used in the ACT, is for a statutory position of coordinator. The ACT Victims of Crime Coordinator chairs the FVIP in the role of Domestic Violence Project Coordinator under the Domestic Violence Agencies Act 1986 (ACT). This model has the benefit of ensuring that one person has a statutory responsibility and resources for driving the integrated response forward, and ensuring a degree of continuity and victim-focused leadership.

A separate issue is whether integrated responses themselves should have a legislative basis. The FVIP itself, like other integrated responses in Australia, does not have a legislative basis. On the one hand, a legislative basis may provide greater security, especially in terms of funding, and may help sustain commitment to the response as key players enter and exit. A legislative basis could also have the benefit of setting out statutory positions for steering committees, special provisions on information sharing, and underlining the importance of the integrated response as part of the core responsibilities of key players.

On the other hand, legislation may restrict the flexibility of integrated responses, and increase costs. Integrated responses need to be sensitive to the needs, strengths and existing institutions and frameworks in a particular area, and these contextual factors may change over time. Legislation may also restrict the capacity of integrated responses to evolve as part of an ongoing process of feedback.

The Commissions are interested in hearing from stakeholders whether legislative support for integrated responses is desirable and, if so, what such legislation should address.

Question 19–1 Should state and territory legislation support integrated responses to family violence within their jurisdictions and, if so, what should this legislation address? For example, should responsibility for coordinating integrated responses within a jurisdiction be placed on a statutory office-holder or agency?