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Domestic Violence Laws in Australia and New Zealand

Earlier this month I attended some events related to International Women’s Day, which this year had the theme of “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women.”  At one of these events, hosted by the Wilson Center here in Washington, DC, the New Zealand Minister of Women’s Affairs, Hon. Jo Goodhew, and the Australian Minister for the Status of Women, Hon. Julie Collins, discussed legal developments in New Zealand and Australia in the area of preventing and addressing domestic violence.  It so happened that, on the same day in the U.S., the bill reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 was being signed into law.

It was noted during the Wilson Center seminar that the domestic violence laws of Australia and New Zealand are being used as models for the development of the laws of other countries, such as in developing countries in Asia and Africa, so I thought it was worth taking a closer look at the recent changes.

New Zealand Law

Some of the information material produced by the New Zealand Government as part of the “It’s Not OK” campaign.

The main piece of legislation in New Zealand relating to family violence is the Domestic Violence Act 1995.  There have been some interesting changes to this law in recent years, which Hon. Goodhew highlighted during the seminar.

From mid-2010, as a result of the passage of the Domestic Violence (Enhancing Safety) Bill in 2009, the police in New Zealand were given the power to issuePolice Safety Orders” (PSOs) in circumstances where they think family violence has occurred or may occur (see Part 6A of the current legislation).  Such orders have immediate effect and can last up to five days.  The police do not need the at-risk person’s consent to issue PSOs, and the person who is subject to an order must leave the particular address, not contact the person at risk, and surrender any firearms for the period of the PSO.  If the order is breached, the police may arrest the person bound by the order and bring them before the court.  According to an evaluation conducted by the New Zealand Police last year, these orders are “working well” and provide a “breathing space” for families and time for agencies to assess what is needed in the situation.  A total of 5,242 PSOs were issued in the first twelve months of implementation.

The same Domestic Violence (Enhancing Safety) Bill also included several further amendments aimed at providing “useful tools in expediting the response of the criminal justice sector to domestic violence.”

In 2011, more amendments to the relevant legislation were enacted as part of the Child and Family Protection Bill.  The changes were passed unanimously by the Parliament and focused on “keeping children safe where there have been instances of family violence in the home, and improv[ing] the responsiveness of the Family Court to those victims.”  The bill included provisions that ensure a child remains protected when a protected person dies (meaning a person who has obtained a Protection Order in relation to another person), and also when they live at home past the age of 17 years.  In addition, amendments were made to make it clear that protecting children from violence includes protection from “psychological abuse and direct and indirect abuse.”

Some further changes are currently being considered as a result of a review of the Family Court, including increasing the penalty for breaching a Protection Order and specifying that economic abuse is a form of psychological abuse as part of the definition of domestic violence in the legislation.  The relevant bill that would introduce these changes is now before a parliamentary select committee.

Australian Law

In Australia, each of the states and territories have their own domestic violence legislation and programs, with the federal government working to develop national strategies and providing funding for various initiatives.  Some provisions in the federal Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) (the main Australian legislation dealing with divorce and parenting orders) also relate to family violence.

By way of background, a project to develop a model domestic violence law for Australia in 1999 did not result in implementation of such a law by the states and territories.  Later, in 2008-09 a report on a national action plan to reduce violence against women and children was drafted by a national council, which then led to the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010 – 2022.  Furthermore, in 2010, the Australian Law Reform Commission published a joint report with the New South Wales Law Reform Commission on a national legal response to family violence, which contained 187 recommendations.

In 2011, the federal Parliament enacted the Family Law Legislation Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Act (“Family Violence Act“, amending the Family Law Act 1975).  This legislation expanded the definition of “family violence” to specifically refer to “a wide range of behaviour including assault, sexual assault or other sexually abusive behaviour, stalking, emotional and psychological abuse, and economic abuse.”  The legislation also amended the definition of child abuse to include exposing a child to family violence.

Also at the federal level, the Family Law Courts have issued best practice guidance on addressing family violence issues in the courts.

At the state and territory level, some of the domestic violence laws have recently been amended.  For example, in Queensland, changes were made to the definition of domestic violence as a result of legislation enacted last year.

Education and Awareness

One of the postcards and an information brochure produced by the New Zealand Government as part of the “It’s Not OK” campaign.

Apart from the legislative responses to domestic violence and funding for various assistance programs, both countries also have public awareness initiatives in place aimed at raising awareness of family violence issues, changing attitudes, and encouraging people to seek or provide assistance.  The two Ministers talked briefly about these initiatives during the seminar at the Wilson Center.

In New Zealand, the “It’s Not OK” campaign (or the “Campaign for Action on Family Violence”) was launched in 2007.  This campaign has the goal of changing “attitudes and behaviour that tolerate any kind of family violence.”  It involves mass media advertising, a toll-free number, a website and various other resources, and partnerships with community organizations and corporations.  The core messages of the campaign are that family violence is “not OK”, that “It is OK to Ask for Help,” and “It is OK to Help.”  Evaluations of the campaign, involving public surveys, have reported positive impacts.

In Australia, a campaign called “The Line” (as in, not crossing it) has been instituted as a result of recommendations made in the national action plan referred to above.  This campaign is targeted at young people and aims to increase their knowledge of the components of a respectful relationship, including “communication, trust and consideration for others in developing and maintaining healthy relationships; the components and forms of intimate partner violence (including cyber bullying and harassment) and sexual assault; and the effects of violence on relationships.”  It involves various media advertising, a website, social media, and a toll-free number.

Additional Resources

Government policies and laws relating to domestic violence are obviously huge areas of research and discussion around the world.  The Library of Congress has many resources on the topic of family violence, including in relation to policy approaches in New Zealand and Australia.  Various resources are also provided through dedicated websites in the two countries, such as that of the New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse (funded by the Families Commission) and the online catalog of the Australian Institute of Family Studies library.

One Comment

  1. Rob McCann
    March 19, 2013 at 3:57 pm

    Great article but you may also wish to note that under education and awareness there is a significant push by communities. See wwww.whiteribbon.org.nz for one such initiative.

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