Domestic violence is arguably the hidden violence in Australia – the violence which few people want to talk about, but one which has a dramatic social and economic cost for the nation. A recent increase in domestic violence in Queensland has prompted the current Queensland Government to convene a Special Taskforce, headed by former Governor-General Quentin Bryce. I want to suggest three factors which the Bryce Inquiry could well look at, and which have wider ramifications Australia-wide.
One of the issues which I believe needs to be examined is the steady reduction in support services available to those suffering from psychological trauma, and who are therefore more at risk of becoming perpetrators of violence. Governments of all persuasions must plead guilty here, in that under the guise of fiscal responsibility, there has been steady decline in recent years in funding available for support services. It is noteworthy that the concern for fiscal responsibility has not prevented governments of all persuasions from committing to increased spending in more populist areas, such as, for instance, committing public funding towards constructing sporting stadiums. I suggest that if we are serious about preventing domestic violence, then we will be serious about proper and regular funding for dealing with the psychological trauma which is likely to lead to domestic violence.
The second issue which I believe needs to be examined is the widespread policy of the out-sourcing of key domestic violence protection functions to private companies. Often these private companies are not-for-profits, who no doubt are deeply committed to the task of providing protection for victims of domestic violence. The problem, however, is that private agencies often don’t operate in accordance with any prescribed code of conduct, and, unlike government agencies, have very limited accountability and transparency mechanisms. Such private agencies also usually have, at best, very limited appeal and compliance mechanisms, if a domestic violence victim feels that he or she is not being treated a proper and adequate manner.
The third issue is the need for social and political leadership. In Queensland, the convening of the Special Taskforce itself is a start. However political leaders need to go further than this, and to be outspoken in support of services for both perpetrators and victims of domestic violence. Interestingly, Australia in 1999 voted at the United Nations in support of the Declaration and Programme of Action for a Culture of Peace, through which this country committed itself to dealing with violence at all levels. It is interesting as well that the above document makes it clear that education is a key for dealing with violence. Aspirational goals are important, and our political leaders could do well to look at the specific items of action that are identified in this important document of intent.
Finally, those in any kind of position of influence could also do well to look at their own values, attitudes and modes of behaviour. If we work to build a softer and more compassionate society, one that is less competitive and exclusive, then perhaps the conditions which encourage domestic violence will become less common, and if and when domestic violence does arise, then we will be able to deal with this more effectively.
Dr James Page is Adjunct Associate Professor in the School of Humanities at the University of New England, and a recognized authority within the field of peace education. He is the Australian co-ordinator for the GIPGAP research project, and a member of the Australian Democrats.