The Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce has handed its first report to the Attorney-General outlining how best to legislate against coercive control.
The Hear her voice report makes 89 recommendations to Queensland Government about essential reforms required to the domestic violence service and justice systems, as well as a four-phase plan that includes a comprehensive suite of legislative reforms.
Most importantly, the Taskforce recommends that a new offence of coercive control be implemented, but not straight away.
Chair of the Taskforce, the Honourable Margaret McMurdo, said that system-wide reform is necessary before a new offence comes into effect.
‘Women and stakeholders have told us loudly and clearly that critical reforms need to happen before any new legislation is commenced,’ Ms McMurdo said.
‘This is why the Taskforce has recommended an urgent four-phase plan of reform before new coercive control legislation is commenced.’
Hear her voice shares many heartbreaking accounts from women about the distress, fear and the all-round devastating impact of a coercively controlling perpetrator.
‘It is our responsibility to ensure that the government, media and wider Queensland community hear what these brave women have told us, Ms McMurdo said.
The report outlines the Taskforce’s concerns that an overwhelming theme in victims’ voices has been the unsatisfactory responses when they sought help for domestic violence from some police officers.
‘Hundreds of victims have told the Taskforce - in submissions and at almost every consultation we undertook - that they were not believed, their experiences were minimised or they were even turned away by police officers when seeking help to keep themselves safe from domestic violence and hold the perpetrators accountable,’ Ms McMurdo said.
‘Victims reported vast inconsistencies in the response they received from the police, at times feeling supported only to be later let down by an unhelpful response to their need for safety.’
Victims and stakeholders told the Taskforce that police often failed to properly investigate complaints about domestic and family violence and failed to bring appropriate criminal charges against the perpetrator.
‘Victims of domestic violence seeking help from the police to keep themselves and their children safe should not have to enter a raffle to see if the officer they encounter will respond appropriately,’ Ms McMurdo said.
The Taskforce has concluded, by majority with one dissent, that—despite considerable government investment in the Queensland Police Service and the fine work done by the QPS leadership, specialist teams and individual officers—harmful cultural problems within the QPS persist.
The Taskforce has recommended an independent commission of inquiry to examine widespread cultural issues within the Queensland Police Service relating to the investigation of domestic and family violence.
‘When a woman who is seeking help is turned away by the police, she won’t go back,' Ms McMurdo said.
‘The Taskforce has great concerns that there are many women experiencing domestic and family violence who won’t even pick up their phone to call the police because they have no confidence in their ability to help.’
‘Police are the gateway to the justice system, and we need to do better.’
The Taskforce recommends the establishment of an independent statutory judicial commission to respond to complaints about judicial officers and provide professional development, as well as a whole-of-government strategy to address the overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the criminal justice system.
‘These are fundamental systemic and structural issues in Queensland’s criminal justice system that are eroding public confidence in the delivery of justice in Queensland,’ Ms McMurdo said.
‘The Taskforce recommends that the Queensland Government deal with these complex issues as a priority to ensure the success of the Taskforce’s proposed reforms and any other future criminal justice reforms in response to coercive control.’
Hear her voice has concluded that the Queensland criminal justice system’s current approach of responding to single—usually physical—incidents of domestic violence, is outdated, given what we now know.
‘Domestic violence involving coercive control is usually not a one-off incident but a pattern of abusive behaviour that occurs over time. It needs to be viewed in the context of the whole relationship,’ Ms McMurdo said.
‘It is important that urgent reform is put in place to shift the system’s focus to better understand the nature and impact of domestic and family violence.
‘This shift needs to happen right across the system irrespective of whether there is any change to the law - certainly it needs to happen before any new offence commences.
‘Otherwise, there would be an unacceptable risk of harming the very people who the reforms are intended to protect, particularly First Nations peoples.’
The Taskforce’s recommendations include the appointment of an independent implementation supervisor to ensure public transparency about the progress of the implementation of the recommendations.
Hear her voice follows on from the Honourable Dame Quentin Bryce AD CVO’s, Not Now, Not Ever report, which led to widespread improvements in Queensland’s response to domestic and family violence.
‘Six years on, women are speaking out—loudly and articulately—and demanding further action,’ said Ms McMurdo.
‘Women have told us that the justice system is failing victims of domestic violence, and they have had enough.’
Since its inception in March 2021, the Taskforce has received over 700 submissions, met with over 125 key stakeholders, held stakeholder forums across the state and spoken to women with lived experience.
‘The community response has been overwhelming,’ said Ms McMurdo.
‘So many women have thanked us for allowing them to tell their stories. I thank them.
‘The wealth of knowledge we have gained from hearing their lived experience is unparalleled. It has allowed us to develop informed recommendations on how to best legislate against coercive control.
‘For these women and girls, being heard and believed is the important first step towards recovery and their journey to justice.’
The Taskforce will report on its second term of reference—women and girls experiences of the criminal justice system—in June 2022.
Following consultation with the community, it will focus its examination on women and girls’ experiences as victims of sexual violence, and as defendants and offenders.
The Taskforce will release a discussion paper in early 2022.
The Taskforce invites submissions on the second stage of its terms of reference through its website at any time. www.womenstaskforce.qld.gov.au.
View Hear her voice