The ten-year National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children was launched this week.
It is without doubt an important policy for shaping the actions and priorities of all governments to work across four main areas of prevention, early intervention, response, as well as recovery and healing.
The National Plan states there are key government strategies and policies that need to be engaged to progress this work to address family violence. One significant strategy mentioned is Closing the Gap. The National Plan states,
Addressing the disproportionate rates of violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women is an urgent national priority, which is why the commitments in the National Agreement on Closing the Gap are embedded across the National Plan.
Closing the Gap already has an existing target to address family violence. However, according to the Productivity Commission, there has been no new data on this target’s progress since the baseline year, 2018-19.
The current proposed alignment between Closing the Gap and the National Plan therefore has the potential to be problematic – partly due to Closing the Gap’s current lack of reportable progress in addressing family violence, but also because linking the two plans could potentially limit access to family violence services for First Nations women seeking help.
What does the National Plan say about First Nations people?
Little is known so far about the specific Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Action Plan contained within the National Plan. Action plans detailing how the National Plan’s vision will be enacted are forthcoming, likely in the next year.
The details released so far indicate the plan will respond to the disproportionate rate of violence experienced by members of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and the specific drivers that contribute to this. These include rising rates of child protection involvement linked to family violence, and women increasingly being misidentified as perpetrators of violence when they seek assistance.
Navigating these multiple forms of oppression and discrimination add to and worsen Indigenous women’s experiences of violence. Indeed, this speaks clearly to the need for a standalone action plan, and Aboriginal women have been calling for this for some time.
The National Plan acknowledges the significant leadership First Nations people have provided in the development of past plans to address violence in our communities, and the roles we will play in the implementation of the National Plan in our communities.
This is an important acknowledgement, given it has not always been recognised that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been at the forefront of responding to family violence in communities. Despite the heartache that comes with the rising numbers of our women and children dying, Nannas, Aunts, mums, sisters, and also menfolk are providing care and support to those in need when services are unable to do so.
In its intention to align with Closing the Gap, the National Plan aims to directly and indirectly support six Closing the Gap targets in the areas of justice and out-of-home care systems and suicide reduction.
This strategy for addressing violence against Indigenous women and children with two national plans coming together to meet the one overall objective could lead to more sustainable long-term services and programs in this area. This has been requested of government for a long time. As a Gunbalunya resident stated in the Little Children are Sacredreport , “We have a 20-year history of six-month programs.” However, there are also limitations to be considered.
It’s a good idea, but there needs to be caution
We have misgivings about aligning the Closing the Gap strategy with a national plan to address violence against First Nations women and children because Closing the Gap has different objectives to the national plan.
The Closing the Gap objective is to “enable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and governments to work together to overcome the inequality experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and achieve life outcomes equal to all Australians.” However, the latest progress report shows a lot of these objectives aren’t on track to be achieved by their deadlines, and the data on the progress of addressing family violence isn’t even listed. There is a danger the target to end family violence is being, and will continue to be, lost in this list.
Federal Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney claims the National Plan will be “committed to putting the voices and aspirations of First Nations women and girls at the centre of plans to improve family safety”. This requires a more specific approach.
Currently, the family violence services sector is competing for funding. Although Closing the Gap could get select organisations extra funding, it could mean First Nations women get no choice but to be funnelled into Indigenous-only services. This lack of agency could risk women feeling discouraged from disclosing or escaping violence because these services might not work for them. This is based on a range of factors including access to services, safety and privacy in the aftermath of violence.
The Monash Stakeholder Report speaks to this,
For the National Plan to be successful […] it needs to be something that upholds and preserves the dignity of women. And we do that by centring her as the expert in her life and stepping away, stepping out of the way and allowing her to have choice and agency, that is essential.
This is why we must ensure mainstream services are accessible and culturally safe for First Nations women and children.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Council on family, domestic and sexual violence is currently charged with the responsibility of drafting the First Nations Action Plan. They have been provided with advice from a recent public statement from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar AO and delegates at a recent policy forum.
The advice reiterated the importance of Indigenous self-determination. This includes guaranteeing Indigenous women lead in the development and delivery of a standalone plan. Also, the plan should include the voices of First Nations women, gender diverse people, and our families in all their diversity.
Associate Professor, human rights lawyer and Kurin Minang Noongar woman Hannah McGlade has been leading the charge for a standalone strategy for First Nations women for years. She has advocated strongly for this noting,
We will not stay silent. Our lives matter, Black women’s lives matter. Stop this genocide of Indigenous women in our lands and country
The National Plan states it will promote partnerships to ensure culturally safe mainstream services. To achieve this will require Indigenous-led, trauma-informed approaches to working with Aboriginal families. If we’re wanting to end the violence against First Nations women, our voices need to be included in how we do this.
BJ Newton, Senior Research Fellow in Social Policy and Social Work, UNSW Sydney and Kyllie Cripps, Scientia Associate Professor, School of Law, Society & Criminology, Faculty of Law & Justice, UNSW Sydney, UNSW Sydney