The Queensland Police Commissioner and police union president have rejected a taskforce’s findings that police culture is contributing to the state’s domestic violence crisis.
8 min read
December 2, 2021 – 6:03PM
The Queensland Police Union has rejected as “woke” and “out of touch” findings by a domestic violence taskforce that police culture has obstructed justice for victims and deterred them from coming forward.
And the Queensland Police Commissioner says her officers will be “devastated” by the findings.
The newly released findings from the Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce, led by former Court of Appeal president Margaret McMurdo, said in many cases police had failed to properly investigate complaints about domestic and family violence and failed to bring criminal charges against perpetrators.
One of the taskforce’s 89 recommendations was the establishment of an independent commission of inquiry to probe police cultural issues.
“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,” Ms McMurdo said.
“Police are the gateway to the justice system, and we need to do better.”
In the landmark report, Ms McMurdo wrote that she had expected to hear from women about their mistreatment at the hands of perpetrators.
Taskforce chair Margaret McMurdo
“I did not expect to hear that women perceived their perpetrators are emboldened by police, legal practitioners and judicial officers,” she wrote.
“Many feel the justice system is failing them.
“Despite the legal definition of domestic violence already including emotional and psychological abuse and coercive control, many police, service providers, lawyers and judicial officers are failing to identify coercive control or its devastating impact on victims’ wellbeing and safety.
“Victims are being misidentified as perpetrators of domestic violence.”
Ms McMurdo wrote that many police officers were not responding to complaints, which was putting women’s safety at risk.
“Despite the efforts of government, the QPS leadership and the many dedicated officers who respond effectively to domestic violence, a Queensland woman seeking police help to stay safe from a perpetrator enters a raffle – she may get excellent assistance, or she may be turned away,” she wrote.
Hannah Clarke’s parents Lloyd and Sue Clarke
Hannah Clarke with son Trey
But Queensland Police Union president Ian Leavers this afternoon rejected the report.
“This is a yet again another woke, out-of-touch report by a retired judge that overreaches where it pertains to police,” he said.
“I am disappointed that our proposal to actually bring domestic violence out of the civil realm and into the criminal code with a new stand-alone offence of ‘commit domestic violence’ was not a recommendation.
“I am pleased to see the Commissioner of Police agrees with the me and the Queensland Police Union and is joining with the QPU in standing up for all the overworked, under-resourced frontline police in utterly rejecting Margaret McMurdo’s suggestion of a commission of inquiry into the Queensland Police Service.
“It is ridiculous to suggest there are widespread cultural issues in the Queensland Police Service where police are dismissive of domestic violence victims. That is just an outrageous statement to make by retired judges who are woefully out of touch.
“I met with Margaret McMurdo and this was never even raised by her. In fact she was complimentary of the work police do.
“It’s disappointing Ms McMurdo hasn’t adopted a single one of our suggestions to fix domestic violence laws.
“It makes no sense at all when police can issue banning notices in nightclubs precincts and charge people with offences by giving them notice to appear and that takes 30 minutes, yet a domestic violence matter to try and do the same because of the convoluted and unworkable laws can take over four hours.
Queensland Police Union president Ian Leavers
“We need to make domestic violence a crime. People like Margaret McMurdo pretend domestic violence is a crime, yet no crime of domestic violence exists.”
Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll also rejected claims there were widespread cultural problems within police ranks, and said an independent inquiry into the police service would be unnecessary.
Ms Carroll said her troops would be “devastated” by the findings.
“It is incredibly disappointing to hear that some members of the community feel let down by our response to domestic and family violence,” she said.
“If we haven’t met the high standards expected of us, that’s unacceptable.
“So we haven’t got it right, I accept that we need to get better at this, but I know that my people who work so hard to get this right and are compassionate and do the right thing will be devastated.
“While I do not fear a commission of inquiry, I cannot support this recommendation.
“What I am purely saying is that I believe a commission of inquiry is not warranted at the organisation because there is an independent body that can already look at it, it’s extraordinarily costly and we are already undertaking most of the recommendations that have been nominated in the report.”
She also rejected the report’s claims of widespread cultural issues.
“What I can accept is though, is that there are subcultures,” she said.
“I can accept that individuals don’t always do the right thing and those people need to be held to account.”
In the past financial year officers have responded to more than 120,000 domestic violence cases – a 13 per cent increase on the previous year.
Queensland Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll addresses the findings today. Picture: Josh Woning
Ms Carroll said that investigating and preventing domestic violence now took up 40 per cent of her officers’ time.
“In some of our shifts….all we do is respond from one domestic violence incident to another,” she said.
Ms Carroll said of the 17 report recommendations suggested for police, 10 of the reforms were already under way.
Tabling the report in Parliament, Attorney-General and Minister for Women and the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence Shannon Fentiman said the taskforce did note the hard work and leadership of the Queensland Police Service in responding to ever-increasing reports of family and domestic violence.
“The taskforce notes that every day hardworking police officers are saving the lives of women and girls,” she said.
“And in many instances police themselves are experiencing vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue due to the increasingly high rates of reports and case complexity.
“However the taskforce heard in many submissions that women did not get an appropriate response from the police, and there is always more that can be done.”
Ms McMurdo said the taskforce had found that police and the wider justice system were failing to identify victims of domestic and family violence.
“The justice system has not caught up with knowledge and evidence about coercive control,” she said.
“Many police, service providers, lawyers and courts are failing to identify it or its devastating impact on a victim’s wellbeing and safety.”
Minister Shannon Fentiman
Among some of the allegations made in the report were that police misidentified victims often charging women with breaching domestic violence orders that “should never have been made”.
“We received many submissions… that many police were not responding to women’s complaints of domestic violence and breaches of orders and that this was putting their safety at risk,” Ms McMurdo said.
Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll will address the media on Thursday afternoon to respond to some of the allegations in the report.
Meanwhile, the taskforce found coercive control should be criminalised, but must be done in a staged approach.
It recommended laws be introduced by 2023, with the first stage of legislative reform to begin next year.
Classification of the offence should be modelled on Scotland’s.
Repeat perpetrators of coercive control and other domestic violence offences should be listed on a non-public disclosable register which would need to be established through new legislation.
Sweeping educational campaigns are required not just for the community but for police and the criminal justice system, while the government should amend the curriculum so that it provides “consistent, high-quality respectful relationships education”.
This needs to address the causes of domestic, family and sexual violence and coercive control.
Court infrastructure should be upgraded to include safe waiting rooms for victims, protected witness rooms and safe entry and exit routes.
Watching on from the public gallery as the report was tabled were Sue and Lloyd Clarke, Queensland Australians of the Year for their work advocating family violence issues following the murder of their daughter Hannah Clarke and their grandchildren.
“The report recommends criminalising coercive control,” Ms Fentiman said.
“However the report is also clear that we cannot criminalise this behaviour until our systems, our community, and our first responders understand, identify and know how to respond to this form of abuse.
“This is a complex issue.”
Domestic violence helplines
- Womensline: 1800 811 811
- MensLine Australia: 1300 789 978
- National Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence Counselling Service 24hr helpline: 1800 RESPECT
- Lifeline: 13 1144
- Family Violence Crisis and Support Service: 1800 608 122
- Emergency/Police: 000
She said the report did recommend immediate legislative changes, including modernising the state’s stalking laws to capture the use of technology.
It recommended an amendment to the Domestic Violence Protection Act to clarify definitions and reduce the incidence of perpetrators using cross applications – filing a domestic violence complaint of their own – to continue to inflict violence and coercion on victims.
And it recommended improvements to police and the courts in responding to domestic and family violence to create a more “trauma-informed system”.
The taskforce recommended that an independent commission of inquiry be established to examine widespread cultural issues within the Queensland Police Service.
It was also recommended that an independent statutory judicial commission be set up to respond to complaints made about judicial officers and provide professional development.
“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 has proposed that perpetrators face a maximum of 14 years’ jail.
It made three key recommendations, including that there be a lengthy period before the law comes into effect to ensure police, the criminal justice system, the community and service sector were educated and prepared.
The taskforce also believes the laws should be reviewed after five years to ensure they are operating as intended, and that the government work with First Nations people to create a strategy that would meet the closing the gap justice targets.
Another of the taskforce’s recommendations was to look at the impact on the overrepresentation of First Nations people in the justice system.
Many victims told the inquiry they did not want the perpetrators to go to jail – rather they wanted the violence to stop.
The taskforce has in turn recommended a diversionary scheme be established for first-time offenders, while the government should expand its network of programs for perpetrators.
Ms Clarke thanks Justice McMurdo for her work on the taskforce.
“We feel that the taskforce has listened to the women, the women have a voice now, they feel validated, and things are going to start to happen,” she said.
“And it’s not going to happen overnight, it will take time but I think the government’s going to get it right.”
She said she was “very touched” when the report was tabled following the couple’s journey in raising the profile of coercive control.
Mr Clarke said he felt that the community had learned a lot about coercive control in the past 18 months.
“We knew something was wrong, we didn’t know it had a name,” he said of his family’s experience with Hannah.
“There’s never any warning signs to start with and it took three, four years for us to see how he was spiralling out of control and you just don’t see it at the start.”