Melbourne and the Royal Commission into Family Violence

9 January 2017

My last stop on what has been a whirlwind of a trip. I have learnt so much my head literally feels at times like it might explode and what a city to leave until last. Victoria is well known for being ahead of the game globally so I was dying to find out what work they were doing.

My first meeting (turned out to be FaceTime) was with the incredible Rosie Batty. Rosie tragically lost her son in 2012. He was murdered by his Father and Rosie has been campaigning for change ever since. She is so down to earth and approachable it is ridiculous considering she is a house hold name in Australia as she won Australian of the Year in 2015. Her work has changed the face of Family Violence across Australia and you feel this most in Melbourne.

The next day was my final roundtable in Melbourne. I think in total I have done 8 and they have all blown my mind. This one was hosted by Melbourne University and the legends that are Cathy Humphrey’s and Deb Nicholson. In the end we had about 25 attendees from Launch Housing, Berry Street, Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning, Cohealth, AMES Australia, Fitzroy Legal Service, Safe Steps, Melbourne Graduate School of Education, Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Wombat and Wesley Mission Victoria. melbourne-roundtable-flyer

cathy-humphreys-and-meI started with my DAHA presentation and update on the trip and then we had a lively workshop.

To give you some background on Melbourne. The Royal Commission into Family Violence delivered its report to Government House in March 2016.

The report is the culmination of a 13-month inquiry into how to effectively:

  • prevent family violence
  • improve early intervention
  • support victims
  • make perpetrators accountable
  • better coordinate community and government responses
  • evaluate and measure strategies, frameworks, policies, programs and services

deb-and-meThe Commission’s 227 recommendations are directed at improving the foundations of the current system, seizing opportunities to transform the way that Victoria respond to family violence, and build the structures that will guide and oversee a long-term reform program that deals with all aspects of family violence. The report weighs a 4.7kg, has 2000 pages and 999 references. The housing section is entitled ‘A safe home’ which is 57 pages long and states the following:

The housing response for people experiencing family violence should have the following characteristics:

  • be tailored to the victim’s circumstances, choices and goals, whether they live in metropolitan, regional or rural Victoria
  • be non-discriminatory and responsive to the full range of people who might be victims of family violence
  • ensure safety and provide options commensurate with victims’ level of risk
  • follow a simple pathway so that people can obtain the help they need, whether they are able to stay in their home or have to leave
  • recognise that keeping victims in their home is optimal if it is safe and the victim’s choice and provide support accordingly
  • provide alternative safe accommodation when a victim cannot remain or return home, while minimising the number of moves they need to make and the time taken to acquire permanent housing
  • ensure that accommodation is of good quality, affordable to the victim and in a location that will help them retain or build on protective factors to support their recovery—including employment, training, education and natural supports such as family and friends
  • complement other forms of support in a manner that reflects the victim’s needs and aspirations—including referral to other services they might need
  • be part of a broader, integrated system of support so that the system keeps the woman safe by maintaining a focus on the perpetrator and reducing the burden on the victim no matter where she is living.

The Commission therefore proposes the following:

  • There should be greater support, both financial and non-financial, for women to retain their existing housing or to gain access to private rental properties in their community.
  • A more concerted shift towards individualised assistance is needed in order to meet the specific needs of people affected by family violence. This means amending the existing Family Violence Flexible Support Packages to include a longer period of rental or mortgage subsidy and further assistance with costs to support economic recovery.
  • Housing options should be expanded so that there is a much greater capacity to rapidly rehouse people and, in doing so, free up places within refuges and crisis accommodation and bypass transitional housing when the victim’s full range of needs are better met in the private rental market with other supports as necessary.
  • Better integration between accommodation and support is essential so that a victim’s housing and other needs—such as counselling, legal advice, financial counselling and employment assistance—are considered at the same time and the link between housing assistance and the support to improve the victim’s financial security and employment status is made explicit.

The 8 recommendations are as follows:

Recommendation 13: The Victorian Government give priority to supporting victims in safely remaining in, or returning to, their own homes and communities through the expansion of Safe at Home–type programs across Victoria [within two years]. These programs should incorporate rental and mortgage subsidies and any benefits offered by advances in safety devices, with suitable case management as well as monitoring of perpetrators by police and the justice system.

Recommendation 14: The Victorian Government increase the number and range of crisis and emergency accommodation that is available by using a wider range of service models—including head leasing of premises—with priority being given to rural, regional and remote areas [within 12 months].

Recommendation 15: The Victorian Government support service providers in phasing out the communal refuge model [by 31 December 2020] and replacing it with accommodation that promotes safety, is accessible to people with disabilities, provides private units and enables connections with the community, work and school (core and cluster model). To facilitate the transition, the Victorian Government should provide a capital fund to assist service providers with business case development, design options and implementation (including construction of redesigned accommodation) and fund interim arrangements to avoid loss in service delivery during refurbishment or redevelopment.

Recommendation 16: The Department of Health and Human Services review the contractual arrangements (including funding levels) for crisis supported accommodation to remove barriers for particular groups, such as women with no income and women and children with disabilities [within 12 months].

Recommendation 17: The Victorian Government expand the provision of Family Violence Flexible Support Packages [within 12 months]. These packages should provide to victims assistance beyond the crisis period and should include longer term rental and mortgage subsidies where required, along with assistance for costs associated with securing and maintaining counselling, wellbeing, education, employment, financial counselling and other services designed to assist housing stability and financial security.

Recommendation 18:

The Victorian Government give priority to removing current blockages in refuge and crisis accommodation and transitional housing, so that victims of family violence can gain stable housing as quickly as possible and with a minimum number of relocations, are not accommodated in motels and other ad hoc accommodation, and spend on average no longer than six weeks in refuge and crisis accommodation [within two years]

Recommendation 19: The Victorian Government establish a Family Violence Housing Assistance Implementation Task Force consisting of senior representatives from the public and commercial housing sectors and family violence specialists [within 12 months]. The task force, which should report through the Minister for Housing to the Cabinet Family Violence Sub-committee, should:

  • oversee a process designed to remove blockages in access to family violence crisis accommodation by rapidly rehousing family violence victims living in crisis and transitional accommodation
  • design, oversee and monitor the first 18-month phase of the proposed expanded Family Violence Flexible Support Packages (including rental subsidies)
  • quantify the number of additional social housing units required for family violence victims who are unable to gain access to and sustain private rental accommodation
  • subject to evaluation of the proposed expanded Family Violence Flexible Support Packages, plan for the state-wide roll-out of the packages (including rental subsidies) and the social housing required.

Recommendation 20: The Victorian Minister for Housing, Disability and Ageing report annually to the Parliamentary Committee on Family Violence [within two years] on:

  • the extent of unmet housing demand among people affected by family violence—including the average and range of current stays by women and children in crisis and transitional accommodation
  • progress in meeting the benchmark of six weeks in crisis accommodation
  • proposed actions for meeting the continuing housing demand from people affected by family violence.

Perhaps the fiercest debate we had in the room is that all of these recommendations and the extra funding $572,000,000 is all welcome however a lady in the audience pointed out that social housing equates for 3% of the housing in Australia so DAHA and this work would be considered the ‘cherry on the cake’. This was then reinforced at a meeting I has the next day with the amazing Angela Spinney at Swinburne University

Gudrun Burnet
@GudrunBurnet