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CANBERRA FAMILY LAWYERS – FAMILY VIOLENCE – The Guardian 1 October 2015:

By October 2, 2015No Comments

The Guardian report: “Western Australia announces $3.1m plan to tackle family violence in the Kimberley”

Indigenous women are three times more likely to be assaulted by their partners than non-Indigenous women, statistics cited in the Kimberley plan reveal.

The Kimberley family violence regional plan was written by an Indigenous women who is a leading expert on Indigenous family violence.

The Kimberley family violence regional plan was written by an Indigenous women who is a leading expert on Indigenous family violence.

The Western Australian government has announced a $3.1m plan to tackle high levels of family violence in the Kimberley, including an extra $1.9m for teams of police and child protection workers to “reset” remote Aboriginal communities with “unacceptable” levels of violence.

The new Kimberley family violence regional plan aims to ground responses to family violence in Aboriginal law and culture by working with elders and law people from the Kimberley’s 40-plus language and tribal groups.

It includes $1.3m for support services and to fund four “family safety teams” which will work with victims and perpetrators of family violence.

Indigenous women are injured at 31 times the rate of non-Indigenous women.

WA’s child protection minister, Helen Morton, said family violence had become so prevalent in the Kimberley that it “has become almost normalised in some communities as being an acceptable way of behaviour”.

Government statistics cited in the Kimberley plan show Aboriginal women are three times more likely to be physically assaulted by their partner than non-Aboriginal women.

Morton said the plan, which was written by Victoria Hovane, an Aboriginal woman from Broome and a leading expert on Aboriginal family violence, was designed to tie into the federal government’s new $100m domestic violence package.

It will involve using elders and Aboriginal law and culture to argue that family violence is not acceptable. And it will reinforce the need for mandatory reporting of family violence, which has slipped among both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in the community who view violence as “a way of life” among Aboriginal people. It also will relocate the “reset teams” of police and child protection workers to the Kimberley.

“You must always remember that these people don’t want to have that unacceptable behaviour occurring in their community either,” Morton said.

The plan ties into the government’s remote community reform program, announced after the WA premier, Colin Barnett, said that up to 150 remote Aboriginal communities faced “closure”, first citing a lack of funding and then claiming they had dysfunctionally high levels of child sexual abuse. Talk of closures has since been rescinded. Morton is one of two ministers steering the remote community reforms, the other is the leader of the National Party, Terry Redman.

Family violence is to blame for number of Aboriginal children in care, inquiry told.

The most obvious connection to remote community reforms are the “reset teams” which, Morton said, “go in for about 18 months at a time to reset a community’s beliefs around normalised behaviour, where we have recognised that that community’s moral compass has got lost”.

That is what happened in Oombulgurri, an extremely remote community 45km north-west of Wyndham, when members of the child sex abuse squad swooped in for what was known as “operation sheepshank” to investigate reports of a paedophile ring.

The results of that investigation, and an earlier coronial inquest into a spate of suicides, led to the state government making the decision to close the community in 2013.

Oombulgurri looms over discussions of remote Aboriginal communities in WA, as both proof that the government can and will shut a community down, and an argument, on the government’s side, that sometimes extreme action is necessary.

Asked if communities visited by the “reset teams” would assured that they would not go the way of Oombulgurri if they did not improve, Morton said, “in lots of ways, the community will make that determination themselves”.

“We have indicated over and over and over again that we are not going to close any of the communities in the Kimberley if we can make sure that those communities are going to continue to be safe for those people that live in the community, and in particular for those children,” Morton said.

Mary Cowley, the chief executive of Aboriginal Family Law Services, said she would reserve judgment on the plan until she had seen how it worked on the ground, but said she was concerned about the increased focus on the “reset teams” which would not help to build trust with Aboriginal people.

Cowley attributed the reluctance of Aboriginal women to report family violence to police to a concern that their children may be taken away.

Aboriginal people make up 3.8% of the population of WA but 52% of the children in care. In the Kimberley, Cowley said, 100% of the children in out-of-home care are Aboriginal.

“I have been visiting some of the female prisons in the state and talking to some of the women who are victims that have become perpetrators and asked them how do we get you to come to us at the start rather than at the 11th hour?” Cowley told Guardian Australia.

“They say the reason they don’t come to us is the fear of their children being removed. And I say that’s fair enough, but what do your children feel about you being incarcerated?”

The women Cowley talked to are often jailed for retaliating against a violent partner.

Cowley said there needed to be a bipartisan commitment for a long-term approach towards reducing family and sexual violence.

“What we have today is a term of government funding and a term of government solution,” she said.

“When it comes to Aboriginal people you are talking about intergenerational trauma. It will take generations to fix.”

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