The Ongoing Fight against Domestic Violence

As a widespread community issue, domestic violence is a top national priority for the Australian Government. Annually, violence against women costs the government $26 billion. [1] This includes the costs associated with increased demand within the health system and justice system, and the impact on employment. [2]

In its fight against domestic violence, the Australian Government recently allocated $150 million within the 2020-2021 Federal Budget. [3] As a complex social issue, tackling this national problem has involved an integrated approach from all levels of government to ensure the safety and support for those experiencing violence.

Legislative Protections against Domestic Violence

The legislation provides pathways for people experiencing domestic violence to apply for a Protection Order.

In Queensland, the Court may make a Protection Order if:

  1. The person is in a relevant relationship with the perpetrator, for example, husband and wife, or a parent and a child.
  2. The perpetrator has committed domestic violence.
  3. A Protection Order is necessary or desirable to protect the person from domestic violence.

 If the Protection Order is issued, the respondent will be ordered not to commit domestic violence and to comply with any other conditions. This order is not a criminal conviction, but a civil order. 

While these orders provide much needed support for those experiencing domestic violence, there are still barriers to this legislative intervention. For example, when applying for an order, it can be difficult to identify specific conduct which falls within the definition of “domestic violence”. Specific behaviours may appear harmless in isolation, however, the frequency and severity can constitute controlling behaviour. This behaviour can also be difficult to recognise as it can occur outside of a romantic relationship, including between children and their parents and between carers and people with disabilities. 

Another difficulty is that many victims do not report their experiences. The significant emotional and psychological effects of this abuse, which takes place over many years, often wear down the individual. Years of being controlled and exposed to continuous violence causes an individual to consider it normal behaviour. Once survivors leave a violent relationship, their mental health and psychology requires significant support and care.

Recent Developments

There have been developments in this area to broaden the support for survivors of domestic violence. These developments include discussion around the introduction of coercive control legislation, corporate support for survivors of domestic violence and the introduction of family violence as a primary consideration when determining whether or not to grant a visa.

Coercive Control  

Coercive control is the continuous pattern of manipulative and controlling behaviour, which often results in the victim becoming isolated and dependent on their perpetrator.

Internationally, in England, Wales and Scotland, coercive control has been made a criminal offence. In Queensland, there have been ongoing discussions about criminalising coercive control, particularly following the death of Hannah Clarke and her three children in 2020. However, due to the complex nature of coercive control, it has attracted considerable debate.

Those advocating in favour of criminalising coercive control argue that it would raise awareness of the behaviour, hold perpetrators to account, and send a message to other perpetrators that this behaviour is not acceptable. Advocates argue that it would provide additional protection to victims of domestic violence. [4]

Those opposed to criminalising coercive control argue that it focuses on a pattern of behaviour that is often subtle and difficult to recognise in isolation, which may mean that it will be difficult to prove. Opponents argue that the prosecution of a criminal offence is dependent on the incident being reported to police. Often perpetrators of coercive control use fear, intimidation, isolation and dependence as tactics, which may prevent the victim from reporting the behaviour to the police. Through intensive community collaboration and consultation Queensland has committed to introducing coercive control laws in early 2022. [5] Queensland’s commitment to criminalising coercive control demonstrates the ongoing fight to protect the safety of those suffering domestic violence.

Family and Domestic Violence Leave – An Employment Entitlement

Paid family and domestic leave for employees have been introduced in some Australian workplaces. The introduction of this paid leave has been led by Australian businesses which has been welcomed and supported by the community. [6]

Financial control is a significant area of domestic violence which allows partners to maintain power and dominance. Paid leave empowers an individual providing financial stability in leaving an unsafe relationship.

In 2018, five full days of unpaid family and domestic violence leave was added as an employee entitlement to the National Employment Standards. [7] These standards set out the national minimum employment requirements and are found in the Fair Work Act 2009. If this entitlement is extended to offer paid leave, it would provide support to those leaving domestic violence relationships. The matter of paid leave was discussed and considered at the 2021 review of modern awards; it is hopeful that paid entitlements will be introduced.

Visa Status affected by Domestic Violence  

Decision-makers are empowered under the Migration Act 1958 (Cth) to cancel or refuse a foreign visa based on various reasons. When determining the visa status of foreigners, Australian migration laws allow for the rejection or cancellation of visas upon failure of a character test. [8]

In 2021, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke added to this character test and under Ministerial Direction 90 introduced family violence as a primary consideration when decision-makers are considering visa determinations [9]. Under the new directions, if a visa applicant or holder commits domestic or family violence this will have a significant bearing on their visa status. [10]

The inclusion of this direction demonstrates the government’s commitment to ensuring the safety of Australians.

How can we help you?

The developments in domestic violence laws have resulted in a renewed focus in supporting people that have experienced or are trying to leave a domestic violence relationship. There is a safe pathway to obtain legal protection and a number of support services that are available to assist you and your family.

Contact us on (07) 3252 0011. 

[1] Women’s Budget Statement 2021-2022.

[2] KPMG (2016) The cost of violence against women and their children in Australia.

[3] Media Release 2020-2021 Budget: Supporting Women.

[4] DVConnect Domestic Violence Statistics.

[5] White Ribbon – Article – Criminalising Coercive Control.

[6] Guardian – Article – Australian Businesses Lead way in paid family and domestic violence leave.

[7] Fair Work Family and Domestic Violence Leave.

[8] Section 501(6) Migration Act 1958.

[9] Media Release Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs, Strengthened Character test to safeguard the Australian community.

[10] Direction 90, Migration Act 1958. 


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