Dowry abuse in Australia 'linked to family violence, murders and suicides'

Labor Senator Louise Pratt delivers a speech in the Senate at Parliament House, Canberra, Monday, November 12, 2018. Source: AAP

The Senate inquiry into the prevalence of dowry and dowry abuse in Australia has published its recommendations.

A Senate committee has identified dowry abuse as a direct cause of family violence, murders and suicides in Australia, but has ruled out recommending a specific law to criminalise the practice.

After months of submissions and evidence by individuals and organisations, a long-awaited Senate inquiry into the nature and prevalence of dowry and dowry abuse in Australia has published its report. 

One of the inquiry's key findings is the recommendation that the term 'economic abuse' be included as a form of family violence under the existing Family Law Act 1975.

At present, there is no reference to dowry abuse in the Family Law Act - Victoria is the only state that specifically includes dowry abuse in legislation as an example of family violence.

The report suggests the federal government work with states and territories to harmonise existing legislation.

Committee chair Senator Louise Pratt said the inquiry found it was clear dowry is being used as a form of abuse.

"I'd seen cases where women, while they were still overseas waiting to marry their prospective spouses, are being asked to put more and more money into their husband's bank account, only to find that they don't have access to that money themselves and that their spouse is not putting any money in, and that that money has been transferred to other people," she said.

In a significant step towards protecting the rights of women on temporary visas, the committee has recommended creating a temporary visa for non-family temporary visa-holders who have suffered serious and proven family violence, including dowry abuse.

This so-called "Woman at Risk in Australia" visa would also be accessible to female international students or women on sponsored visitor visas.

The visa would allow a victim to make necessary arrangements for their and their family's protection and security, as well as arrangements to return to their home country or to apply for a further visa.

Senator Pratt said Australia needs to look at how its visa program can help people at their most vulnerable.

"There have been some terrible examples where people are just... have been married and are dumped back at home, in their home country without any assets, and frankly the shame of not being able to even go back to their own family because of the breakdown of their own relationship," she said.

In addition to the proposed legislative changes, the committee said the Australian government must work with the states and territories to improve data collection practices.

This would allow them to better measure the extent and incidence of all forms of family violence, including dowry abuse as a form of economic abuse in Australia.

Senator Pratt said she was surprised to find dowry abuse in Australia was far more significant than she was expecting.

"I saw that really from a wide range of participation of women and community organisations who have been supporting and interacting with both men and women who have been affected by these issues so I can't really say how big it is, but I can say that it's certainly big enough for us to take it seriously as an issue that needs legal and policy reform in Australia," she said.

The report also recommended the government engage with organisations and frontline workers to develop ongoing education and raise awareness on the subject.

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