March 12th 2016

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Several items missing from list of the big spend

CANBERRA OBSERVED Greens back Coalition in Senate voting reform

ENERGY Nuclear reprocessing feasible here: SA inquiry

HISTORY OF TAIWAN Fifty-year journey from poverty to prosperity

SPEECH IN PARLIAMENT Warning: wolves in anti-bullying clothing

EDITORIAL Turnbull ignores three elephants in the room

DOMESTIC AND FAMILY VIOLENCE Family portrait or ideological caricature?

OPINION Goebbels revisited: the attack on Cardinal Pell

FAMILY AND SOCIETY SSCA apologists try to shrug off media furore

EUTHANASIA Legitimate denial of choice at end of life (Part II of two)

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Welcome backdown on vaccinations

ENVIRONMENT Food bowl emptied due to conservationist myopia

MUSIC Much-loved concertos clouded with melancholy

CINEMA Spotlight in the darkness: Spotlight

BOOK REVIEW Governing Middle-earth

BOOK REVIEW A land of contrasts


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Family portrait or ideological caricature?

by Michael Ord

News Weekly, March 12, 2016

Domestic and family violence in Australia causes great harm and is wrong. In this three-part review, Michael Ord seeks to understand whether the problem is being accurately represented to the community, to comprehend the response to the problem, and to appreciate any connections between the way the problem is characterised and current ideologies at work in society. In this first part, Michael examines the typical portrayal of domestic and family violence in our community.

The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in December 2015 agreed to take steps to halt violence against women and children, including a national summit in the last quarter of 2016 to profile best practice and review progress. The national summit, an initiative of Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, will be held in Queensland.

Malcolm Turnbull’s first major policy announcement as Prime Minister was a $100 million domestic and family violence package. Mr Turnbull said violence against women was “one of the great shames of Australia” and “a national disgrace”. Mr Turnbull made the announcement flanked by family violence campaigner Rosie Batty. He stressed that violence against women was merely a “symptom” of a broader culture of disrespect for women.

The $100 million was allocated to a range of measures related to domestic and family violence, which appears to be built on the premise of women being the victims and men the perpetrators. The package included $5 million to expand the Safe Schools website to provide resources for teachers and parents to educate young people about “respectful relationships”.

The COAG December 2015 meeting agreed to measures including setting standards to ensure interventions with perpetrators are effective around Australia, introducing a national Domestic Violence Order (DVO) scheme, and developing a comprehensive national DVO information sharing system.

Queensland taskforce report

The Queensland Special Taskforce on Domestic and Family Violence, chaired by former governor-general Quentin Bryce, was established in September 2014. In February 2015, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk released the taskforce’s report and recommendations, “Not now, not ever: Putting an end to domestic and family violence in Queensland”. Some of its recommendations were implemented in 2015.

The reports bio for Ms Bryce highlights the esteemed positions she has held and her contribution to advancing human rights and equality, the rights of women and children, and the welfare of the family. In November 2013, just before the end of her term as governor-general, Ms Bryce announced her support for same-sex marriage. She said in a speech as part of a Boyer Lecture series that her hope for the nation was that women’s contributions be valued as equally as men, where women and girls are spared violence and where people are free to love whom they choose.

Context and landscape

The Queensland taskforce report refers to domestic and family violence literally happening in the privacy of the home and within domestic and intimate relationships. It states a traditional, and often idealised, view of the home as a place of privacy, safety and security, and a sanctuary that should be free from government and the broader community. It says that family relationships, similarly are viewed as a private union of individuals focused on promoting and safeguarding each other’s physical, mental, emotional and social wellbeing; and that, while this is true for many homes and families, for many others it is very different. Home and family, far from giving safe haven, are akin to being a “cradle of violence”.

The scoping section of the report observes that stand-alone domestic violence legislation was introduced into the Queensland Parliament in 1989 and the then minister for family services noted that the law contained effective protection to victims of domestic violence, with clear consequences for those who persisted in inflicting this misery on their spouses.

The report indicates that Parliamentary debate at that time focused on issues including that domestic violence was a pervasive but unreported crime; that there was a need to challenge traditionally held views that women were the property of their husbands; and that provocation was an excuse for violence. It makes reference to statements by two women MPs, including first, that “violent husbands are not referred to as criminals, as they should be, having committed a criminal assault upon their wives”; and second, “Our views about the essence of marriage as a loving partnership are affronted when we learn of violence behind closed doors and realise that children are witnessing that violence … As a responsible community we simply cannot turn a blind eye to this violence”.

The taskforce’s role was to define the domestic and family violence landscape in Queensland, and make recommendations to rid the state of this insidious form of violence. The taskforce’s report stated that the incidence of domestic and family violence had been increasing and that the Queensland Police Service recorded 66,016 occurrences in 2013–14. In the same period more than 24,000 private and police-initiated applications for protection orders were filed in Queensland courts, with 14,579 contravention (breach) offences recorded by Queensland Police.

The report stated that data for Queensland showed that, between September 2013 and September 2014, 15,656 protection orders identified the aggrieved person as female and 4,486 as male. In relation to domestic and family violence breach offences in the 2013–14 financial year, adult male offenders committed 12,503 breach offences, representing 87 per cent of total offences reported to police.

Data and reporting

The taskforce report does not explain or analyse what is an “occurrence” to fully justify claims that domestic and family violence have been increasing. A check with Queensland Police established that a domestic violence occurrence is an occurrence that is covered by any of offence codes 1371 to 1376:

1371. Breach of a Domestic Violence Protection Order

1372. Police Domestic Violence Application

1373. Private Domestic Violence Application

1374. Other Action (where Police have attended a location and determined a protection order application is not needed)

1375. No Domestic Violence (Police attend a location and determined there is insufficient evidence to make an application for a Domestic Violence Order. However, parties involved can apply for a private application)

1376. Interstate Order (that is, an interstate order registered in Queensland).

It would seem any interpretations from total occurrences alone might be misleading and analysis should be undertaken at the offence code level.

The taskforce report appears to adopt a specific language for the parties to domestic and family violence, stating three main terms: perpetrators, offenders and victims. The term “perpetrator” appears 137 times, “offender” 20 times and “victim” 164 times. An example of this language includes “perpetrators must be better held to account for their conduct; the court response must be improved, particularly when family law issues arise; victims need to be better supported through the complex legal system; and police responses need to be more swifter [sic], more emphatic and focus on victim safety”.

The consultation and engagement that underpins the taskforce report appears to be targeted to women advocacy groups. The verbal references in the report include five academics, three political representatives and 13 community leaders. These references appear to imply that domestic and family violence principally involves men as perpetrators and women as victims. The verbal references also include 30 references mainly from women advocacy groups and 44 individuals. With one or two exceptions the individual references are from women portraying men as perpetrators and women as victims.

The taskforce’s recommendations are intended to inform a Queensland domestic violence prevention strategy to enable all Queenslanders to live free from violence from a partner or family member, and where children do not have to see or experience family violence.

Three themes shape the report: the cultural attitudes of the community; the role of services and the importance of an integrated response; and the functions of the legal and justice systems. The report makes 140 recommendations.

The report states that lasting change will only be achieved if the causes of domestic violence are considered. It refers to international evidence showing that the causes are complex – unequal distribution of power and resources between men and women, rigid or narrow gender roles and stereotypes, and a culture and attitudes that support violence. It is only through taking into account the causes of domestic and family violence that the funding and investment model will be able to achieve a meaningful reduction in such violence.

The recommendations place an emphasis on building respectful and healthy relationships and contrast this with the taskforce’s understandings of domestic violence – respectful and healthy relationships are based on trust, honesty, fairness, and equality. A violent relationship between a victim and a perpetrator, on the other hand, is based on coercion and control.

The emphasis on building respectful and healthy relationships involves educating children about respectful and healthy relationships, respecting self and gender equality, and the importance of changing attitudes towards violence. The report states that education will equip our children with a better understanding of what an equal relationship is and the social norms, attitudes, beliefs and behaviours that provide the context for harmful and abusive situations.


Domestic and family violence activism involves mainly women advocacy groups, women academics and community leaders with feminist outlooks. Their view appears to be that it is a “man” problem and that it has been getting worse. They assert a main cause of the problem is gender stereotypes and gender inequality. They have an indifferent attitude to natural marriage because they think marriage is oppressive to women.

The advocated response involves extensive government-funded services (more funding for women advocacy groups, the police and courts) and educating children about so-called respectful and healthy relationships. Government and political leaders seem readily to accept the activists’ portrayal of domestic and family violence as involving a perpetrator and a victim and to commit funding for the activists’ recommendations.

Part II of this review will involve the appraisal of a Sydney Law School research paper written in 2011 by Patrick Parkinson, Judi Cashmore and Judi Single, titled “Post-separation conflict and the use of family violence orders”, to highlight the shortcomings in the activists’ portrayal of domestic and family violence.

Read Part 2 and Part 3 of this series

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