22 Apr New Domestic Violence Laws
How a legislation change will make Domestic Violence a criminal offence
Why do we need legislation around Domestic Violence?
The ongoing graphic news stories about Domestic Violence certainly draw our attention to an outdated culture of disrespect and coercion within some family and intimate relationships. But this is not merely media hype. The reality and express need for action warrant the explicit accounts.
With the most recent (2016) Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) numbers indicating that 1 in 6 women experience violence at the hands of their partner, it’s likely that if it’s not you, someone you know is suffering like this. Although the data leans heavily towards female victims, these insidious injustices do not just affect women. The ABS Personal Safety, Australia figures also reveal that 1 in 17 men are in the same situation.
Family violence affects everyone
Directly or indirectly, the lives of everyday people are hindered by Domestic Violence. The flow-on effects for households, businesses, communities and our struggling health and welfare systems are enormous. Decades of lobbying by the public and groups such as Bravehearts, Women’s Electoral Lobby (WEL), Australian Women Against Violence Alliance (AWAVA), and Women Everywhere Advocating Violence Elimination (WEAVE) have begun to create awareness in society and now, a parliamentary reaction.
The public conversations around Domestic Violence are the first steps to removing the taboo around this topic. But it is institutional and legislative change that will push the empowerment from the streets and into the courts. Here, justice can be served and a new culture with zero tolerance for family violence can begin to grow.
What Domestic Violence legislation changes are needed?
One specific reason that new legislation is needed is the current inconsistency in the definition of what constitutes family violence and abuse. Different aspects of Family Law are currently dealt with by different courts, and individual issues can fall under either State or Commonwealth jurisdiction. The smooth transition of people and information between these courts can be time consuming and confusing for those not familiar with it. The Australian Government has realised that this legal system, which was intended to help people during what is already a distressing time, needs to be as straightforward as possible.
As a result of this realisation, on 18 February 2021, the Government passed legislation to bring together the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia (FCC). This court will now be known as the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFC). This merger, documented in the Government Response to ALRC Report 135: Family Law for the Future – An Inquiry into the Family Law System, aims to provide “a single point of entry into federal family law jurisdiction, and create a consistent pathway for Australian families to have their family law disputes dealt with in the federal courts.” And also, “to ensure that they help families separate in a safe, child-centred, supportive, accessible, and timely way.”
Along with making it easier to have Family Law cases settled by a single court, the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) has tabled 88 recommendations in Report 135: Family Law for the Future – An Inquiry into the Family Law System. As this is the first comprehensive review of the Commonwealth Family Law Act since it was introduced in 1976, it covers many aspects of the Family Law system. Domestic Violence is high among them.
How will the new laws benefit me if I experience Domestic Violence?
Currently, the vast majority of domestic and family violence cases are governed by
state and territory laws and court systems, and while a respondent might face criminal charges for a breach in their own state, a DVO is not a Criminal, nor nationally enforceable, Order. In its Family Law Amendment (Federal Family Violence Orders) Bill 2021, The Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia has introduced “criminally enforceable federal family violence orders.” These will be known as Federal Family Violence Orders (FFVOs).
In the new Bill, the Government has allocated $1.8 million (in the 2020-21 budget) to support changes to the system, including:
- allowing family law courts to make family violence orders enforced nationwide.
- Making breaches to family violence orders a criminal offence through the Family Court system.
- Working with police, courts and justice agencies in all jurisdictions to ensure that FFVOs can be effectively enforced by state and territory police. (Currently, in order to enforce a family law personal protection injunction (PPI) the protected person is required to initiate civil proceedings in a family law court.)
- People will be able to apply for an order in the family law court in which their matter is already being heard, and be assured that police will respond to a breach incident.
- Funding specialist domestic violence units (DVUs) and health justice partnerships (HJPs) in 21 locations around the country.
What is Domestic Violence?
As difficult as it might be to talk about your situation, understanding what constitutes Domestic Violence and speaking to a professional about it are the first steps to getting help if you need it.
Domestic or Family Violence can be perpetrated physically, emotionally, psychologically or sexually. Some of the most common ways violence in families is committed is:
- spouse/partner abuse,
- child abuse/neglect by an adult,
- sibling violence, or
- parental abuse.
- assault (including sexual assault or other sexually abusive behaviour),
- coercive control,
- repeated derogatory taunts,
- intentionally damaging or destroying property,
- intentionally causing death or injury to an animal,
- unlawfully depriving the family member, or any member of the family member’s family, of his or her liberty,
- unreasonably denying the family member the financial autonomy that he or she would otherwise have had,
- unreasonably withholding financial support needed to meet the reasonable living expenses of the family member, or his or her child, at a time when the family member is entirely or predominantly dependent on the person for financial support, or
- preventing the family member from making or keeping connections with his or her family, friends or culture.
If you are experiencing any of these situations, there are legal steps you can take to provide safety for yourself and children or other family members. A Domestic Violence Order is one formal option.
What is a Domestic Violence Order (DVO)?
- approaching you at your home or work,
- staying in a home currently or previously shared, even if the house is owned or rented in their name,
- approaching your relatives or friends (if named in the order), or
- going to a child’s school or day care centre.
Legal Aid Queensland specifies that, “Once an order has been made, it’s a criminal offence for the respondent to breach (disobey) the order.” This news can provide relief to those seeking such an order, but do the Family Law Courts issue a DVO, or is this a matter for the Police?
Getting a Domestic Violence Order
A DVO must be made by a magistrate in court. However, there are a number of ways to get one. You can ask any of the following people to apply on your behalf:
- the Police,
- a lawyer,
- a social/welfare worker,
- friend, or
- family member.
Domestic Violence support and helplines
There are many organisations dedicated to the prevention of Domestic Violence and providing assistance for individuals or families in need of support. Many of which are aimed at improving outcomes for families as they navigate the family law system. The Lighthouse project is just one; endeavouring to achieve this objective by screening families applying for Parenting Orders for safety risks involving violence.
The following services provide support and advice about Domestic Violence.
Please call 000 if you are in danger and need immediate assistance
1800RESPECT 1800 737 732 National sexual assault, domestic violence counselling service
DV Connect – Domestic Violence helpline 1800 811 811 24hr counselling, information, referral and help including refuge and shelter placement and crisis intervention
Lifeline 13 11 14 24 hr crisis support and suicide prevention services.
Queensland Indigenous Family Violence Legal Service 1800 88 77 00 Provides legal and counselling services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples suffering from the direct and indirect effects of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Women’s Legal Service 1800 957 957 (1800 WLS WLS) Provides free legal advice to women on areas of law including domestic violence and family law.
Centacare Relationship Services, Domestic Violence Assistance Program (07) 3807 7622 Provides information about domestic violence and helps with applications in some courts in Queensland.
No To Violence (men’s referral service) 1300 766 491 The Men’s Referral Service is a men’s family violence telephone counselling, information and referral service for men using or at risk of using violent or controlling behaviour.
Mensline 1300 78 99 78 A free, confidential telephone or online counselling, referral and support service for men.
Family Relationships online 1800 050 321 Information for all families – whether together or separated – about family relationship issues
Translating and Interpreting Service 131 450 24/7 free telephone or on-site interpreter in your own language.
If Domestic Violence is getting in the way of understanding the full ramifications of your complex Family Law situation, please seek help from one of the dedicated Domestic Violence support services listed above, or contact us.