One week after the horrific killing in February of Hannah Clarke and her three children, Aaliyah, Laianah and Trey, the Australian Senate established an inquiry into domestic violence. The inquiry was to have a particular focus on violence against women and children. This reflected the national outrage and horror at the four deaths and family violence in general.
The committee was required to report by mid-August 2020.
This week that inquiry closed. It did so without conducting any consultations or taking any submissions from the specialist domestic and family violence sector. It did not hear from those with personal experience of family violence.
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The inquiry’s final report, tabled this week, states:
The committee formed the view that conducting another lengthy, broad-ranging public inquiry into domestic and family violence in Australia at this time would be of limited value.
Why does the inquiry’s closure matter?
The inquiry’s inaction and closure sends a dangerous message to the Australian community that domestic violence is not a priority area for government. This is particularly concerning given the irrefutable evidence women and children are facing heightened risks of family violence during the current coronavirus pandemic.
The timing of the inquiry’s closure and the release of its final report is ill-conceived.
During the first three weeks of May, six women have allegedly been killed by men’s violence in Australia, equating to two women a week.
While these deaths are just the tip of the iceberg that is Australia’s domestic violence crisis, they are a firm reminder of the significant risk of family violence in Australia.
The need for this inquiry
The inquiry comes after several years of policy attention on family violence in Australia. Since 2015, there have been numerous national and state reviews in the areas of primary prevention and service responses. Key frameworks have been introduced or redeveloped to support informed responses to violence against women across Australian states and territories.
The Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence, for example, undertook 13 months of activity. It received over 1,000 written submissions, held 44 group sessions attended by about 850 individuals, and held 25 days of public hearings. The evidence generated presents one of the most comprehensive examinations of family violence internationally. The 227 recommendations paved the way for the transformation of responses to, and prevention of, family violence.