‘World first’ domestic violence legislation

By Angela Dorizas

The Nothern Territory Government has introduced legislation that will make it illegal to ignore incidences of domestic violence, but the people responsible for rendering assistance are concerned that it will force victims underground.

The landmark legislation, announced by NT Chief Minister Paul Henderson, requires all adults in the Territory to report incidences of domestic violence.

“Domestic violence tears families apart and women and children are often the most vulnerable,” Henderson said.

“The Northern Territory Government is saying enough is enough and this will not be tolerated anymore.”

The NT Government has also committed $15 million over four years towards crisis accommodation, counselling services and public education campaigns on mandatory reporting of domestic violence.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) and Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW) are concerned that overriding doctor-patient confidentiality and forcing all health practitioners and social workers to report cases of domestic violence will prevent victims from seeking help.

AASW president Professor Bob Lonne told GovernmentNews that the legislation was “tough love gone mad.”

“The trouble with mandatory reporting is that it is a hand-fisted approach to what is a complex problem,” Professor Lonne said.

“All you do with that sort of draconian approach is force people to go underground. You force victims in particular to go underground and not seek the sort of help and intervention that they need. It is counter productive.”

Professor Lonne said the AASW lodged a formal submission to the NT Government last year to voice their concerns about this aspect of mandaory reporting which had not been adequately examined in legislative proposals.

“We do hope that the government would reconsider this and alter its course,” he said.

“We only need to go to the recent Wood Inquiry where the issue of mandatory reporting of children for child abuse was looked at. That recommended a major overhaul of the system.”

Professor Lonne said the alternative to mandatory reporting was to provide adequate support systems for victims and perpetrators voluntarily seeking medical, therapeutic and legal intervention, and to ensure there is strong criminal legislation in place.

“The critical issue is that you have in place systems that both recognise where these sorts of events are either likely to happen or have happened and that then you have a very well-resourced and well-trained labour force that’s able to get in there and help people,” he said.

Professor Lonne said he was confident that other state governments would not follow the path of mandatory reporting.

“I think good sense will prevail. I’m sure that other state governments and the ACT Government will look with interest and look at what evidence will come out – the success or otherwise – of this legislative manoeuvre,” he said.

“Perhaps it is a world first for a reason.”

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