Governments can do more to tackle DV. So why aren’t they?
In the wake of the horrendous murders of Hannah Clarke and her three children, the Federal Government is facing increased pressure to do more to tackle domestic violence.
The Government has attempted - somewhat - to deal with this pressure, using International Women's Day to announce an additional $20 million in funding for a scheme in which people fleeing violent situations can receive no-interest loans of up to $2,000.
In announcing the scheme, Social Services Minister Ann Ruston turned her attention away from the Government, instead arguing that it should be the community who takes ownership over the domestic violence epidemic, saying, "if you see something that you think is disrespectful behaviour towards women then actually go and call it out for what it is. Because until we change people's behaviour we're just going to be responding to domestic violence and we have to start preventing it."
This approach is common in official responses to high profile events of domestic or gendered violence.
While he was Prime Minister, for example, Malcolm Turnbull spoke often about the importance of changing community attitudes. At one point during his leadership, Turnbull tweeted: "On #WhiteRibbonDay I'm challenging all Australian men to think about what you will do to advance equality - as dads, sons, brothers, colleagues, mates."
Daniel Andrews has turned similar messaging into a fine art. In the wake of the string of awful high profile murders in his state, the Victorian Premier has pointed the blame not at state and federal government inaction, but at male attitudes.
At face value, such messaging makes sense. It is true that community attitudes and gendered expectations are core pieces of the puzzle of the epidemic of domestic violence. Yet coming from prime ministers, premiers and government ministers, we can, and should, only read these sorts of messages in one way - as a deflection away from their ongoing failures to successfully address and stop domestic violence.
Attitudes are only one part of the puzzle, and they are the part that will take the longest time to change. But in the meantime, there are many other essential pieces of the puzzle - both in prevention and in responding to violent episodes - that can have real short term effects. But successive governments, at state and feral levels, are increasingly ignoring these elements, and in turn deflecting their own responsibilities.
While Ann Ruston talks about community attitudes, for example, the Federal Government could, and should, not just be reversing cuts to domestic violence services, but also be increasingly them significantly.
The Federal Government should be working with its state counterparts to change policing practices so that, for example, domestic violence orders (DVOs) - similar to the one given to Rowan Baxter - are properly enforced. It could also legislate that employees be eligible for domestic violence leave.
Instead of simply talking about community attitudes, the Federal Government could also listen to the many recommendations of the Australian Women Against Violence Alliance (AWAVA), a body was set up by COAG to provide advice on domestic violence policy - a body it now seems to be bypassing.
They could listen to the two Senate inquiries that have been held on domestic violence in recent years and implement their recommendations. But they are not doing these things.
Daniel Andrews could acknowledge Victoria's chronic shortfall of over 100,000 houses - which makes it all the harder for women and children to leave violent homes - and housing inaffordability across the state, and invest in social housing. Instead, he talks strongly about male attitudes.
For each moment a government refuses to implement these sorts of policies and opts to talk about community attitudes, all they are doing is deflecting the blame and kicking the can that little bit further down the road.
Yes, attitudes do need to change. But so do government policies.
Government policies have much greater capacity to stop violence in the here and now, and allow for the long-term community changes. But as long as governments refuse to implement these sorts of policies, they are simply letting this violence continue unabated.