Family Violence

Minister HUTCHINS (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs) — It is my privilege to speak on this take-note motion addressing the prevention of family violence and in particular to respond to the address to this Parliament by Rosie Batty and other very well presented and well-spoken activists on the prevention of family violence.

I will begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we are standing today and pay my respects to their elders past and present. For over 50 000 years Aboriginal people have existed on this land. Their lives, societies and cultures have left an enduring and indelible legacy, one that continues today.

Over the last year I have seen the strength and the pride of Victoria’s Aboriginal people, communities and organisations, and I have been so impressed by their resilience. The positive outcomes that can be achieved when Aboriginal people are involved in the discussion is endless. In that time I have had the privilege to meet and learn from a range of people from across the state, including Aboriginal leaders and communities and Aboriginal-controlled agencies. I have had the privilege of speaking and listening to the world’s best practice organisations — that is, our registered Aboriginal parties. During these discussions I heard many stories about how resilient, strong and rich Aboriginal culture is in Victoria. Unfortunately I also heard of the heartache and damage around family violence and the heartbreak it is causing families in the Aboriginal community.

Let me just state that Aboriginal family violence and any form of family violence is not wanted in any family or in any community setting. We recognise the terrible tragedy family violence can cause and the importance of addressing specific needs and experiences of Aboriginal people as a matter of urgency and in a culturally appropriate way.

The Andrews Labor government is committed to self-determination for Aboriginal people and to strengthening our partnership with Aboriginal communities to reduce family violence. We know that Aboriginal culture is based on strong families and kinship systems and that family violence is not part of Aboriginal culture.

The Royal Commission into Family Violence provides an opportunity to refresh the government’s and community’s approach to responding to Aboriginal family violence. The problem we have to deal with is that the current approach is failing to significantly reduce family violence. One reason for that is that we have collectively failed to understand family violence in Aboriginal communities and its direct result of the destruction of their community and culture over the last 230 years. This means we have to do more, and many of the responses to family violence have a direct relationship to other issues, such as the unreasonably high number of Aboriginals and Aboriginal children who are currently and who have been in out-of-home care. This has been discussed publicly many times over my lifetime, but it is far from being accepted and understood. One of our jobs as leaders is to make sure that it is understood and fixed. That is one of the tasks of reconciliation.

Aboriginal family violence is viewed as a legacy of many things and many experiences, past government policies and practices, including colonisation, dispossession of land, outlawing of traditional cultural practices and traditional language, systematic racism, assimilation and forced removal of children. As a result of these practices and policies intergenerational violence, trauma, grief and loss, fragmentation of families, loss of cultural practices and roles, breakdown of community kinship systems, social structures and Aboriginal law are impacting on the community’s survival. It requires a holistic healing program and model that responds to the acts of family violence, but also to the other injustices experienced by Aboriginal people.

The Aboriginal community’s wide experience of trauma requires a collective response rather than one focused solely on immediate family victims and perpetrators. Perpetrators need to be held to account for their behaviour, and dealing with that will in many cases require therapeutic and healing approaches.

One of the key strengths of the Aboriginal community is the importance of culture as a primary resilient and protective factor, something that is sometimes misunderstood by non-Aboriginal Victorians. In terms of addressing specific needs for Aboriginal family violence, I want to use this opportunity to acknowledge the great work done by Muriel Bamblett, who addressed the house on family violence prior to the debate on this motion. Over many years, both as a community leader and with her team at the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA), Muriel has really led the way on reform and protection for Aboriginal children and their families.

VACCA is an organisation that really promotes the rights of Aboriginal children and takes its role extremely seriously. VACCA was the first organisation of its kind in Australia and has worked to protect the rights of vulnerable Aboriginal families since 1976. VACCA was born of an urgent concern in the Victorian Aboriginal community about the large number of Aboriginal children being removed from their families and adopted or fostered into non-Aboriginal families.

I would also like to thank all the other Aboriginal community services across this state who work hard in supporting and nurturing those Aboriginals affected by family violence. Just last week I was in Wangaratta meeting with the local Aboriginal network there, which is made up of a lot of local representatives. Some work in government agencies and some are activists, and they really give a lot of time to coming together and discussing reconciliation, working with the broader Wangaratta community.

I heard firsthand the heartbreaking stories of some of the elders in that community who have given many, many hours of their own time to go out at all different times of the day and night to assist community members who are experiencing issues of family violence and then help them navigate the system of actually making the change, supporting that family and getting them into a safe environment.

I have got to say that there is a high level of burnout among some of the elders up there who have done this role for years and years on a voluntary basis without a lot of support. They called on me in our meeting to do what I can to further assist them in getting some structures in place there. I was pretty pleased last week that we were able to announce some funding that is specifically for the Indigenous family violence regional action groups, better known as the IFVRAGs, in the Aboriginal community. They are regionally based groups of volunteers that come together to deal with this issue of family violence in the Aboriginal community.

One thing I have learnt about Aboriginal community is that no two groups are the same, and their needs and wants are not necessarily similar. Having regional-based groups that are funded to take local actions and provide local support to their communities is something that I think is really at the heart of the discussions around self-determination.

Unfortunately I have heard similar stories of family violence tearing communities apart in all different corners of the state, and I have heard of local communities struggling with how they move forward. Hopefully this recent bit of funding will go some way towards starting to heal that, but I know that the work that is being done currently by the Royal Commission into Family Violence will provide an opportunity for the government to refocus as a whole on a community approach, in particular responding to the needs of Aboriginal community and Aboriginal family violence.

I, like every other person in this place, am committed to making sure that we make a difference and that we bring an end to family violence. For many of us in this room, we would also like to see that ended in the Aboriginal communities in our electorates.