Explainer: Domestic Violence in Queensland

Monique Mita

Queensland’s next Premier is all but guaranteed to be a woman, but where do the major parties stand on an issue that disproportionately affects women?

The brutal murder of Hannah Clarke and her three children in the Brisbane suburb of Camp Hill earlier this year is a shocking reminder that Family Domestic Violence (FDV) continues to threaten the freedom and safety of women and their children.

Queensland courts have been accused of minimizing the violent actions of perpetrators and societal attitudes remain tolerant of dangerous behaviors within intimate relationships. 

One woman dies at the hand of their current or former intimate partner every week in Australia, but only when a case is as barbarous as Hannah Clarke’s murder does it reach the mainstream media. 

The Queensland Court recognized that Rowan Baxter was a danger to Clarke and their children when he was served with a Domestic Violence Order.

Just weeks prior to dousing his three children and estranged wife in petrol and setting them on fire, Baxter had breached that order.

He walked free of police custody and was due to appear in court a couple of weeks after he committed murder.

Since then, accounts from family and friends emerged, telling how Baxter used coercive control as a weapon to control Clarke within the 10-year relationship.  

 

Image: violence-against-women-4209778_1920.jp

 

What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence is a term commonly used to describe the use of tactics like emotional, psychological, financial, spiritual, physical and sexual abuse which are used to control another in an intimate relationship.

Experts say the term is insufficient because it misleads the public to believe that physical violence must be a factor in order to qualify as ‘Domestic Violence’.

This misconception allows perpetrators to keep their intimate partners submissive and fearful by using tactics of coercive control, without leaving evidence of physical violence. 

Attorney General and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence Mark Speakman said, “The horrific rate of domestic violence murders in Australia remains stubbornly consistent and coercive and controlling behaviour is a common precursor to intimate partner homicide”.

There are several issues which affect the way victims of domestic violence and their children are protected by policing and judicial services in Queensland. 

One of which is the way police officers perceive issues of domestic violence.

This relates directly to the steps taken by police to protect victims and further impacts on the victim’s success in gaining protections in relative court proceedings. 

This problem of perception was made clear when detective in charge of Clarke’s murder investigation, Mark Thompson, publicly suggested that Baxter may have been “driven too far by issues”.

Though Thompson voluntarily stood down from the investigation, the reality of ‘victim blaming’ by a senior police officer had become apparent. 

Another issue brought to light by Hannah Clarke’s case is the fact that families suffering domestic violence face lengthy delays between the filing of applications and the commencement of trials.

After breaching the DVO, Baxter was set free by police and was due to appear in court many weeks after the breach occurred.

The Family Court acknowledges that the courts are overwhelmed and there are insufficient judges to meet the workload.  

Though professional development programs aim to update Queensland Magistrates on the handling of domestic violence cases, programs are optional and, in some cases, the provision of specialist training is limited, leaving our court system ill-equipped to protect vulnerable women and children.

Though four Specialist Domestic and Family Violence Courts exist across Queensland including Southport, Beenleigh, Townsville, and Mt. Isa, matters such as Clarke’s, are often seen by magistrates who may or may not have the appropriate level of DV training.

Experts say the court system did not recognize the ‘intensity of risk of violence at separation’ even though Baxter’s behavior leading to the tragedy was a red flag.

 

Where does Labor stand on the issue?

 

The Palaszczuk Government claims to have done more about DFV than any Queensland Government before them.

They released the Domestic and Family Violence Strategy which provides a blueprint for collaboration between community and government to deliver positive change and implemented 140 recommendations that were set by the Special Taskforce on domestic and family violence in Queensland.

 

These efforts include:

  • The establishment of 7 domestic and family violence shelters.
  • The Respectful Relationships education program is now mandatory in Queensland Government schools.
  • Making strangulation a stand-alone offence.
  • Establishing permanent specialist domestic and family violence courts.
  • Implementing respectful relationships in schools.
  • Delivering campaigns urging bystanders to do something and for victims to seek support.

In April this year, the Palaszczuk government provided $5.5 million to government-funded services in anticipation of increased demand arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The beneficiaries included DVConnect, Womensline and Mensline.

 

A re-elected Palaszczuk Labor Government has committed to:

  1. Address coercive control, including with legislation, community awareness, and first responder training.
  2. Review the experience of women across the criminal justice system as a part of the Sexual Violence Prevention Framework in order to better recognise and respond effectively to domestic, family, and sexual violence.
  3.  Maintain the existing specialist FDV courts and promise to continue to roll out additional specialist courts throughout Queensland.
  4. Continue to work with legal practitioners, the courts, and police to identify ways to provide safety and stability to survivors and their children while their matters are before the courts.
  5. Enhancing a whole of government response to domestic, family, and sexual violence by delivering a strengthened victim-centric focus including:
  • Operational policing policies to put victims first in one of the largest training initiatives ever undertaken by Queensland Police.  
  • Best-practice training through a partnership with UQ to give all Queensland Police officers and employees victim-centric and trauma-informed training 

 

What does the LNP propose?

Queensland’s LNP leader Deb Frecklington said at a doorstop press conference just a week after the tragedy, “We need to review the criminal justice system and we need to do it now” and proposed tougher laws to tackle Family Domestic Violence (FDV).

Ms Frecklington proposed 4 key points:

  1. Amend the definition of Strangulation laws to re-classify the offence as a Serious Violent Offence and align the penalties with grievous bodily harm and double the current maximum penalty to 14 years (currently seven years).
  2. Immediate review of the domestic violence criminal justice legal framework. Including:
  • Implementation of Coercive Control as a criminal offence.
  • Empower police to issue on the spot Domestic Violence Orders.

      3. Protecting FDV survivors with Smart Technology by committing $500, 000 to rollout 200 personal safety devices to   vulnerable people.

      4. Extra support for victims:

  • Emergency one-off payments of up to $2000 to assist victims in leaving FDV relationships in recognition of the shortage of crisis accommodation.
  • $1 million extra funding to women’s Legal Service and additional $1 million to other frontline legal and support providers of FDV and sexual violence support.

 

What do the Greens propose?

  1. Create a new ten-year, $5.3 billion National Partnership Agreement on Domestic Violence and Violence Against Women between state and federal governments.
  2. Provide 10- year funding certainty for frontline response services who provide crisis response, crisis accommodation, legal support, advocacy and post-crisis support and radically boosting their funding by investing $2.2 billion.

  These services must meet the needs of LGBTIQ+ people, migrants, and people with disability.

  They also intend to extend secure funding to ANROWS and Our Watch, the national primary prevention and cultural change experts.

      3. Commit an additional $200 million over four years to a Survivor Grant fund, which would give up to 50,000 FDV      survivors grants of up to $4000, helping approximately 1,000 survivors each month.

      4. Legislate that that all workers are entitled to 10 days paid FDV leave (currently 5 days).

 

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