By Greg Barns, Hobart Mercury

http://m.themercury.com.au/news/opinion/talking-point-root-causes-of-domestic-violence-are-ignored-by-grand-plan/story-fnj4f64i-1227485748237

 

Premier Will Hodgman, Our Watch chairwoman Natasha Stott Despoja and Australian of the Year Rosie Batty after the release of the Government’s domestic violence plan. Picture: RICHARD JUPE

POLITICIANS are a shallow lot these days.

Good policy, policy based on evidence and on ensuring dealing with existential issues, is jettisoned for headline grabbing and buckets of money to interest groups that scream loudest.

The Hodgman Government’s domestic violence action plan is a case in point.

The plan is seen by the person who has been turned into an expert overnight by the media, Australian of the Year Rosie Batty (the media’s newest deified “expert”), and by interest groups that benefit, as groundbreaking.

MORE: $25.5 MILLION TO COMBAT FAMILY VIOLENCE

It might be in terms of money, but here is a prediction – like the failed war on drugs, it will not reduce domestic violence in the medium to long term because it all but ignores perpetrators and those at risk of offending, and relies on heavy-handed legal processes.

Slick marketing campaigns telling men to “man up” and false promises by politicians that they will stamp out domestic violence are symptomatic of the age in which we live.

We do not want to confront the reality of why it is that people offend or might be at the risk of offending.

We do not want to be seen as supportive of men because in the reductionist black-versus-white world of the media and politicians men are evil, and women and children are saints.

Domestic violence is a complex issue. It is driven by a range of factors that include mental illness, lack of educational opportunities (particularly literacy), intergenerational poverty, acquired brain injury, and addiction. The legal system fails to deal with these issues.

The legal system is not the place to tackle domestic violence in the majority of cases. Ploughing more money into prosecutors and creating criminal offences will not assist in dealing with the root causes of family violence.

Let us illustrate this by reference to real life. A domestic violence incident happens late at night. Police arrive. The alleged perpetrator is given an interim police family violence order and told to leave the house. He sleeps rough for a few days.

His partner asks him to return to discuss matters. He does so, but a police car sees his car at the house from which he was ejected and arrests him for breach of the order.

He is sent to prison and unable to obtain bail. The family is torn apart. He loses his employment. The woman and children lose control because police, through a secretive committee process, decide when a couple can be reunited. The woman is frustrated and angry. The man is angry, and being sent to jail exacerbates his difficulties.

The legal system is not the place to tackle domestic violence in the majority of cases. Ploughing more money into prosecutors and creating criminal offences will not assist in dealing with the root causes of family violence.

While politicians in Tasmania and elsewhere continue to refuse to ensure greater educational opportunities, to deal with acquired brain injuries and mental illness in a holistic way, and to recognise that drug users should not be placed in the legal system but encouraged to deal with addiction in a health setting, then you can expect domestic violence will continue at all too high levels.

The Government plan falls into the trap of seeing those who are subject to family violence as the only victims.

Yes they are, but so are the perpetrators for reasons listed above. That the Government has got it wrong is manifest in this statement from the plan – “Establish Safe Families Tasmania, a nation-leading program to hold perpetrators to account and co-ordinate support services for victims”.

In other words, focus on the traditional victims and shame other victims, those who commit acts of violence.

What will the Hodgman Government’s plan bring to Tasmania? Not a lot.

Modern neuroscience tells us that using threats and running zero-tolerance campaigns to reduce offending is of little use. The human brain’s capacity to think rationally about risk and reward is adversely impacted by brain injury, early childhood trauma, drug abuse and lack of educational opportunities. This makes controlling anger difficult and, unless there is research and capacity building in the neuroscience and criminal justice space, as a society we can expect levels of domestic violence to continue.

Domestic violence is not a crisis in our community. This overused word is the label politicians, the media and the interest groups that push a particular view use to generate support for spending and to make themselves look good.

It’s simply the level of reporting that has risen. And there is a need to drill down into the numbers because there are cases where claims of domestic violence are made without evidential foundation or for reasons of malice.

What will the Hodgman Government’s plan bring to Tasmania? Not a lot. It seems the advocates, politicians and media have been seduced by the dollars being spent.

There is little in this package to deal with the root cause of offending.

Lawyer Greg Barns was an adviser to NSW Liberal premier Nick Greiner and the Howard government. Disendorsed as the Liberal candidate for Denison in 2002, he joined the Democrats. In 2013, he was Wikileaks Party adviser.

 

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