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Domestic Violence in Australia: Policy Issue Research Paper


Introduction

According to the Senate (2015), domestic violence (DV) has become a serious issue in Australia and does not appear to be decreasing in significance. In Australia, more than a million children are affected (The Senate 2015, p. xiii). The costs of DV include the financial ones as well as “lives lost, the effects on children, physical and mental health, employment, risk of homelessness and financial security”(The Senate 2015, p. xiv).

By 2022, the issue is likely to cost the nation $15.6 billion (The Senate 2015, p. 18). An issue that is as socially and economically costly requires policy decisions. In this paper, DV in Australia will be regarded as a problem that requires policy decision-making, and the related terminology and theory will be used to gain insights into the reasons for the persistence of the issue.

Literature Review: State of Events

Defining Domestic Violence

DV is the violence that occurs within the family and that a family member suffers at the hands of another one (The Senate 2015). According to the Family Law Act 1975 (as amended in 2006), DV includes all the parents, children, grandparents, grandchildren, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, cousins, step-relatives of these kinds, as well as husbands, wives, and partners, and ex-husbands, ex-wives, and ex-partners.

The same Act defines DV as “conduct, whether actual or threatened, by a person towards, or towards the property of, a member of the person’s family that causes that or any other member of the person’s family reasonably to fear for, or reasonably to be apprehensive about, his or her personal wellbeing or safety” (The National Council to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2009, p. 187). It is apparent that the term “reasonable” is unclear, but the Act does not seek to specify it.

The most common contributing factors of DV include gender inequality and related social norms, being exposed to or witnessing DV as a child, poor parenting, substance abuse, social isolation, mental issues, personality characteristics, conflicts and divorces as well as income, education, and employment level (Cussen & Bryant 2015; The Senate 2015). Also, vulnerable groups like women with disabilities or indigenous people are more likely to experience DV (The Senate 2015). In other words, DV is a most complex issue.

Statistics

According to the World Health Organisation (2013, p. 16) statistics (that is based on self-reported experiences), 30% of women in the world were subject to DV with the lowest (23%) rate recorded in high-income countries and highest (37%) found in African, Eastern Mediterranean, and South-East Asia WHO regions. Australia belongs to the high-income part of the world, which means that the rates of DV are not the highest in the country, but they can still be described as very high.

ABC Fact Check (2016) provides an overview of statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ personal safety survey, which was carried out in 2012 with 17000 people over 18 years old. The statistics demonstrate that there is a large disruption between the number of female and male victims, the former being much more likely to suffer from abuse. Apart from that, people of both sexes are more likely to suffer abuse from their partner. The figures state that 1,479,900 women and 448,000 men suffered from partner-caused DV in 2012.

This data is comparable to that provided by the Australian Institute of Criminology that focuses on DA-related homicide. According to the Institute, one in four of the partner homicide victims was male in 2012 (Cussen & Bryant 2015). 38% of registered DV cases ended in homicide in 2012, and 44% of the offenders that murdered their partners had had a prior history of DV (Cussen & Bryant 2015, pp. 1, 7).

The report also informs that the homicide rate in DV had declined from 1.8 per 100,000 people in the 1990s to 1.1 in 2011-12. However, this report does not reflect general DA rates that have been growing in New South Wales (by more than 50% from 1995 to 2014) and Victoria (by 8.8% from 2013 to 2015) (ABC Fact Check 2016, para. 72-75). Still, it has been suggested that the growth of this statistics is caused by the fact that more cases are reported to police rather than stay within the family (ABC Fact Check 2016, para. 75).

Australian Bureau of Statistics (2015) also suggests an Experimental Family and Domestic Violence Statistics for the year 2014. It is based on the data from the police services that describes cases of DV, but ABS warns that not every case of DV is brought to police and not every of those that are brought will be labelled as DV. The data is primarily geography-related, and the Northern Territory appears to be the least safe with 1,749 assault cases and 36 sexual assault offenses per 100,000 persons. Similar reports are provided by the police and other institutions of regions, for example, New South Wales or Victoria (ABC Fact Check 2016).

Unfortunately, DV statistics on DV in Australia is largely incomplete and related to a statistical error, but the reasons for that include the fact that much of DV remains unknown to police. In any case, the fact that DV is a most visible and persistent issue cannot be denied, which implies that policy efforts should be aimed at dealing with it.

Policy Efforts

While specific local laws can differ, the Federal legislation is meant to ensure protection from DV in Australia, and its key element is the Family Law Act 1975. The law is being continuously amended and improved, and some amendments are aimed at reducing DV. For example, those of 2012 introduced more detailed definitions of DV and further specified the concerns and means of ensuring child safety (Kaspiew et al. 2015).

Therefore, it cannot be said that the policy-makers are not making an effort. However, it is questionable if the effort is sufficient. The issues of disconnected services, ineffective courts, and victim silencing are still a problem nowadays, which is explicitly stated by Australia’s first Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence Fiona Richardson (Hawkins 2016). The Senate (2015) has admitted that so far there is no coordinated national approach to the issue of domestic violence and promised to address DV (p. 35). Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews went as far as to call the DV protection system “broken” and vowed to change it from the bottom up (Anderson 2016, para. 3). As a result, the question of whether decision-makers are making a decision is acute nowadays.

Literature Review: Theory

Public Policy: Decision Making and Non-Decision Making

Policy decision-making typically follows the discussion and examination of key options and involves choosing one and approving it as a course of action that is supposed to resolve or assist in resolving an issue, reaching the desired end. This factor makes decision-making a form of problem-solving (Matheson 1997).

The process of policy formulation follows that of agenda setting and is concerned with deciding on the course of action. It involves appeasing, discussing, and formulating the options that can further be passed to the ratification stage (Howlett, Ramesh & Pearl, 2009). A positive decision-making results in deciding to change the status quo. Non-decisions are different from what Howlett, Ramesh, and Pearl (2009) define as a negative decision since the latter presupposes preserving status quo while the former does not even include the option of changing it in the agenda (p. 142).

The result of decision-making is usually concerned with the production of “formal or informal statement of intent on the part of authorised public actors to take or not to take some action such as law or regulation” (Howlett, Ramesh & Pearl, 2009, p. 139). The specific mechanisms, actors, likely directions and other issues of policy decision-making are described by various theories and models that attempt to explain the process (Cutting & Kouzmin 1999; Matheson 1997; Peters 1998; Teisman 2000).

The first models that were proposed included rationalism and the incremental model, but their limitations led to the development of other ones by mixing or moving away from them. The latter process resulted in the creation of the Garbage-Can Model that “denied the decision-making process even the limited rationality attributed to it by incrementalism” (Howlett, Ramesh & Pearl, 2009, p. 151).

As a result, the decision-making process is likened to a garbage can, and the problems and solutions are “dumped” into it as the actors come up with them. A decision, therefore, becomes the result of a more complex and less linear process than the one that was imagined before (Cohen, March & Olsen, 1972; Olsen 2001). This model helped to rethink the decision-making process, and one of the commonly accepted ideas in the modern study of it is the fact that different decision-making styles may be employed for various problems.

Complex problems are typical in the context of politics decision-making, and their complexity has been growing due to the processes of globalization and the sharing of power (Lindblom 1959; Teisman 2000). Therefore, the movement towards less prescriptive and more flexible models of decision-making can be regarded as an improvement. In particular, the issue of DV is admittedly complex: as it has been pointed out above, numerous issues contribute to its development, which indicates that no simple solution can be found.

Actors and Institutions

The policy system consists of subsystems that can be described as sets of relationships between “several different kinds of actors and a number of formal and semi-formal organisations” (Considine 1994, p. 71; Howlett, Ramesh & Pearl, 2009, p. 83). Actors and institutions that can affect the policy-making process include governmental ones and “outsiders” that are not vested with similar authority but move the political agenda forward.

The interaction between the government and other actors consists of the exchange of the “opportunity to share public policy” and the assistance in the decision-making process (such as technical advice or specific knowledge) (Maloney, Jordan & McLaughlin, 1994, p. 36). It is noteworthy that the electorate can be regarded as an influencing force and, ideally, it should become another actor by expressing the need for a decision and testing the one made by the government (Cutting & Kouzmin 1999).

International actors can be involved as well (Howlett, Ramesh & Pearl, 2009). During the agenda-setting stage, the number of relevant actors is greater than during the decision-making process since the latter requires a certain level of authority that is typically connected to a position in the government (Howlett, Ramesh & Pearl, 2009). For Australia, a parliamentary democracy, the executive holds the greatest amount of legislative power (Howlett, Ramesh & Pearl, 2009).

Actors are restricted by the laws, regulations, social and political paradigms, and economic conditions as well as substantive (issue-related) and procedural constraints (Howlett, Ramesh & Pearl, 2009). However, it is them who can set the process of the decision-making going, that is, affect the agenda setting.

Agenda Setting

The agenda-building process is based on the discovery of an issue and education of various subgroups about it (Cobb, Ross & Ross, 1976). Baumgartner and Jones (1991) suggest that the agenda dynamics is concerned with the issue being popularized (involving social media) and attracting the attention of regulators in the meantime changing the public image of the situation and later getting the potential of influencing the market.

The agenda that has captured the attention of public is called the public agenda while the formal one is accepted by the decision-makers. Certain events have the opportunity to “trigger criticism of existing policy,” and DV cases can be regarded as such “triggers” (Birkland 1998, p. 62). However, the problems tend to be gradually forgotten until another similar event reminds the public about it, which Downs (1972) has termed as “issue-attention” cycle. The author lists the complexity and costs of resolving an issue as the reasons for it being forgotten together with simple boredom or fear of approaching the problem.

Policy Instruments

Policy instruments are the “type of mechanism used in a policy” (Bressers & O’Toole 1998, p. 217). Attempts at connecting the specific types of networks to the instruments have been made, but no comprehensive typology has been offered for the tools, which restricted these efforts (Bressers & O’Toole 1998). Technically, the instruments of policy-makers are not a rigid set of tools, and actors are free to define their sets and come up with new means of policy-making (Carter 2001; Howlett, Ramesh & Pearl, 2009, p. 114). At the same time, the selection of instrument is a decision-making in itself, and the result of this process will affect the successfulness of the policy implementation (Linder & Peters 1990).

Domestic Violence: A Case Study

Having defined the terminology, we may consider the following case study of DV.

The Case

Karina Lock (49 years old), was shot in the chest by her ex-partner Steven Lock (57 years old) at a Gold Coast McDonald’s restaurant in front everyone who was attending it at 9:15 am (Australian Associated Press 2015). She died on the spot. The man then shot himself and was hospitalised, but soon died (Robertson 2015, para. 3). They had apparently had a meeting prearranged, and the witnesses informed the police that the man was “very set in the face,” which made them believe that killing the woman was his plan all along (Bochenski & Silva 2015, para. 11-2). Karina Lock had been reported to move to the coast in order to escape from her ex-partner (Australian Associated Press 2015, para. 5; Robertson 2015, para. 4).

The Policy Consequences

Karina Lock happened to be murdered on the same week as one more woman and a little girl were killed as a result of DV in Queensland. The events of the week had prompted news as well as opinion response from the media that can be regarded as an actor in this case. An article by Skene (2015), for example, dwells on the issue of DV as an unnatural thing that leaves a mark in a number of people, that can happen to any person, and that is not supposed to happen to anyone.

The accumulation of the cases and the statistics of DV-related homicides in Queensland brought along an actual change in legislation (Agius & van Vonderen 2015, para. 2, 10-12; Burke 2016, para. 11-12; Robertson 2015, para. 1). As a result of all these events, the nonfatal strangulation was made a separate offense in Queensland due to the fact that it is predictive of future DV and even homicide (Burke 2016).

Analysis

The policy instrument that appeared as a result of this case seems to be unrelated to the cause of the death of Karina Lock, but it is noteworthy that the decision was made as a response to the accumulation of the events. As a result, the effort of Queensland policy-makers is aimed at alleviating the issue of DV as such, and the reasons for the death of Karina Lock were not considered and did not lead to a particular decision that was pulled out of the DV garbage can.

In particular, the fact that the woman had been “reasonably” fearing for her life and trying to escape from her ex-partner, but did not receive help from the authorities before the event appears to attract our attention the problem of the terminology used by the Federal Act in the definition of DV that was described above. However, this element of the DV can remained neglected. Indeed, the death of Karina Lock did not turn out to be a sufficient trigger event for the legislators, and the issues that had led to it were not attended.

The fact that similar cases are happening often enough to become a disturbing statistics might contribute to this negligence. Apart from that, DV is admittedly an issue that can make the public and decision-makers strive to avoid it (Downs 1972).

As a result, the case of Karina Lock allows making the following conclusions. First, the issue of DV has been on political agenda for some time but due to its complexity and unpleasant nature, the attempts at its solution keep being postponed. Second, to become a trigger, a case of DV needs to be especially noticeable; for example, three successive events can spur a change in the legislation. Third, the changes will not necessarily be exhaustive or federal; in fact, the creation of a comprehensive and national plan of DV regulation is yet to be created. In other words, the current activeness of Queensland policy-makers does not guarantee that the issue will not be pushed into the next stage of oblivion in the “issue-attention cycle.” The problem still requires policy decisions.

Conclusion

The use of policy decision-making terminology with respect to DV allows an insight into the reasons for the persistence of the issue. The presented discussion of DV demonstrates that it is a problem that has a most significant impact on the welfare of the community and is related to economic losses, which means that it apparently requires the consistent attention of public policy decision-making. It is evident that the triggering and mobilising events for DV are happening on a nearly regular basis and the actors and instructions that can affect the political agenda are relatively active. Therefore, the fact that DV has been on political agenda for some time is apparent, but the complexity of the issue appears to be effective in restraining the policy-makers from a consistent federal effort in resolving it.

Reference List

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Domestic Violence in Australia: Policy Issue." October 1, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/domestic-violence-in-australia-policy-issue/.

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