• Members of the Tangentyere Women's Family Safety Group from Alice Springs at an event to discuss combatting family violence at Parliament House, 2018 (AAP/Mick Tsikas)
OPINION: Closing the Gap can only be meaningfully 'refreshed' through genuine partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. And we are calling for a focus on family violence, writes lawyer and family violence CEO, Antoinette Braybrook.
By
Antoinette Braybrook

15 May 2018 - 10:15 AM  UPDATED 15 May 2018 - 10:15 AM

Right now government is considering how the Closing the Gap framework can be reformed, following the lack of impact of the previous 10-year framework.

At all stages of this significant opportunity, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices must be heard.

When considering the wellbeing of our people, government has tried and failed to deliver on community needs and it is now time for our people to do this our way. Part of the refresh process is identifying what has not worked and why, and setting renewed targets. A commitment to self-determination must be fundamental to this process. We have demanded genuine engagement with government through the Redfern Statement. History has demonstrated time and time again that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities have the solutions.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak bodies such as the National Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention Legal Services Forum work with and for communities. Working in this sector, we witness —on a daily basis— the barriers and challenges our people face, as well the strength of our communities. We know what works, and it is now time for government to be accountable to working with us to implement systemic change.

Family violence is now recognised as a national crisis, and the situation is even worse for our women. We see the impact of barriers to reporting family violence, including poor policing practice that minimises the violence the women we work with experience or blames women for violence perpetrated against them.

In comparison with other Australian women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are 32 times more likely to be hospitalised as a result of family violence, and 10 times more likely to be killed as a result of violent assault. Family violence is now recognised as a national crisis, and the situation is even worse for our women. We see the impact of barriers to reporting family violence, including poor policing practice that minimises the violence the women we work with experience or blames women for violence perpetrated against them. Research suggests that as much as 90 per cent of violence experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people goes unreported. The information we have only offers a glimpse into the problem.

This is why, through the Closing the Gap Refresh, justice targets with a specific focus on family violence must be adopted by all levels of government. This is essential to understanding and addressing the vastly disproportionate rates of family violence against our women, causing extreme and long lasting harm. 

Setting national targets within Closing the Gap provides a clear, long term goal to focus on, as well as to measure and hold governments to account. With this years' Budget disappointingly offering no new funding for specialised, culturally safe frontline services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander victim/survivors, targets for justice are needed to reduce both rates of family violence against our people as well as the over-imprisonment of our people, particularly our women.

Both of these target areas are necessary to improve justice outcomes and access to justice. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, in particular, represent the fastest growing prison population in our country. While family violence victimisation is not a direct cause of Aboriginal women being jailed, it is a precursor to a range of conditions that lead to imprisonment.  

Also, 80 per cent of incarcerated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are mothers. As women are often primary carers, this is causing severe, long term and compounding impacts on our families and communities.

It is crucial that the strength, needs and voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are visible through Closing the Gap, having been invisible to policy makers for a number of years.

Through our frontline experience, we see that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women face multiple, complex and unique challenges to accessing justice. Historical and ongoing impacts of colonisation, including oppression through legal and government systems and policies of forced assimilation, has created fear and mistrust of mainstream services and their capacity to respect the needs and autonomy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. This is reinforced by poor, and discriminatory, police and child protection practices. It is crucial that the strength, needs and voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are visible through Closing the Gap, having been invisible to policy makers for a number of years. The interrelated and complex nature of many target areas in the Closing the Gap framework also means a holistic approach should be adopted, along with a focus on early intervention and prevention.

Family violence must also be recognised as a key barrier to other target areas of health, education and employment. Targets to increase culturally appropriate and affordable housing and to reduce the disproportionate number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people in out of home care are, as well as crucial stand-alone measures, key aspects of addressing family violence. Our frontline expertise also shows us that an emphasis on early intervention and prevention should be a principle and key implementation strategy of Closing the Gap. It is critical that community-led, holistic legal support and early intervention and prevention programs are adequately funded.

To capitalise on the opportunity to have intergenerational impact, the refresh of Closing the Gap must be led by our people, communities and organisations. We cannot wait another 10 years for government to listen to us.

 

Antoinette Braybrook is the CEO of Djirra (formerly Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention Legal Service Victoria) and the National Convenor of the National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services Forum. Antoinette is an Aboriginal woman who was born in Victoria on Wurundjeri country and her grandfather and mother’s line is through the Kuku Yalanji, North Queensland. Follow Antoinette @BraybrookA (@DjirraVIC, @NationalFVPLS)