Queensland politicians, lawyers, judges and police have risen to the challenge of the Not Now, Not Ever report, with tough new laws and an integrated approach to victim protection all working towards eliminating family and domestic violence in the state.
In 2014, in response to the ever-increasing incidence and severity of family and domestic violence, the Queensland Government established a Taskforce to investigate the issue, including the support systems in place for victims.
In their report — Not Now, Not Ever: Putting An End to Domestic and Family Violence in Queensland — the Taskforce made 140 recommendations, all of which have been accepted or supported by the Queensland Government, with a number recently being implemented.
What follows is a summary of the changes to domestic and family violence law in Queensland in response to the Not Now, Not Ever report:
- In August 2015 the state’s first integrated domestic violence court was established at the Southport Magistrates Court on the Gold Coast, in response to one of the Taskforce’s recommendations. At Southport, if a court matter involves domestic violence in any way, all related issues are dealt with in the same place — such as ancillary charges, child access and protection orders, Domestic Violence Orders, etc. Complainants have access to Legal Aid, counselling and referral services, assistance with finances and accommodation, and services to help with managing contact with children. According to the Queensland Justice Department, in the 2015-2016 financial year, “5439 domestic and family violence applications were lodged at Southport, an increase of nearly 60 per cent on the previous year”.
- In April 2016, laws were passed that made non-fatal choking, strangulation and suffocation an offence, with a maximum sentence of seven years if convicted. The new offence was one of the recommendations of the Taskforce, with the rationale that the act of attempting to strangle or suffocate is often part of an escalating cycle of violence with the potential to culminate in serious injury or homicide. On Parliament’s passing of the legislation, State Attorney-General, Yvette D’Ath said, “The new offence acknowledges the importance in identifying this conduct to assist law enforcement and related agencies in assessing risks to victims and increasing protections for them.”.
- At the same time, Parliament passed amendments to the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 making domestic violence an aggravating factor in sentencing. This means that judicial officers, when sentencing in a domestic violence case, may consider imposing a higher sentence by taking into account the context in which domestic violence occurs.
- As a result of the increased focus on domestic violence prevention and reporting, Queensland police have found themselves hindered in their incident response time by an increase in paperwork. To address this, amongst other things, Parliament has rolled out a series of reforms in the last couple of weeks, including:
- Extending the powers of the Police Protection Notice (PPN) so police can provide immediate protection to victims and any children;
- Courts being able to issue Domestic Violence Orders (DVOs) when there has been threatening behaviour or when a victim fears for their safety;
- Extending DVOs to a minimum of 5 years (previously the minimum was 2 years);
- Freeing up information sharing between government agencies in order to assist in identifying those at risk.
- Finally, Queensland is moving towards the implementation of laws supporting a National Domestic Violence Order Scheme, a set of model laws agreed upon by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in December 2015. NSW was the first state to legislate the scheme, which automatically recognises and enforces DVOs across state and territory borders, with the other states and territories following suit.
Family and domestic violence support services:
1800 Respect national helpline:
1800 737 732
Women’s Crisis Line:
1800 811 811
Men’s Referral Service:
1300 766 491
Lifeline (24 hour crisis line):
1300 364 277