The history of domestic violence reforms in Queensland: Bryce report

The history of domestic violence reforms in Queensland: Bryce report

Quentin Bryce’s task force sets out a good history of how domestic violence has been tackled in Queensland (and Australia):

Domestic violence is not new. It spans history, countries, and cultures, and has profound impacts on individuals and communities. However, its recognition as a matter of public interest is a relatively modern concept.
It is only a few decades ago that issues of child abuse and ‘wife beating’ were acknowledged but not openly or properly addressed as serious social problems. Societal change during the 1960s and 1970s brought these issues to the forefront. This resulted primarily in the establishment of women’s refuges and courts which became increasingly willing to consider expert evidence about how women were affected by sustained domestic abuse in homicide cases.1
Despite these changes, domestic violence was still considered a social issue and police responses, particularly in the United States of America (USA), remained focused on providing crisis intervention and referral, ignoring the use of criminal law to deal with the problem.2 It was not until the 1970s and 1980s that activism by women’s groups placed policing and the use of criminal sanctions, in response to domestic violence on the social and political agenda. Australia also began to explore the problem of domestic violence and whether the available legislation effectively dealt with violence that occurred in the home, and whether it provided appropriate protection for victims of domestic violence.3
Unlike the USA, the absolute criminalisation of domestic violence has not been the centrepiece of Australian responses to domestic violence.4 Instead, civil protection order schemes enacted across most jurisdictions since the 1980s feature heavily in Australian legislation.5 Such civil protections are, however, expected to operate in conjunction with criminal law6 and in this way, the Australian approach was intended to provide better protection to victims than that provided by criminal law alone.7
The first Queensland Domestic Violence Taskforce was established in 1988 and recommended the introduction of stand-alone domestic violence legislation in Queensland. When debating legislation introduced to the Queensland Parliament in 1989 to respond to the issue of domestic violence, the then Minister for Family Services noted:8
Whilst attitudes cannot be changed overnight, through this Bill, the government is ensuring that the law contains effective remedies which offer protection to victims of domestic violence, with clear consequences for those who persist in inflicting this misery on their spouses. When police investigate cases of domestic violence and there is sufficient evidence, criminal charges should be laid against the offender. However whilst the criminal law, which is directed to the punishment of past unlawful acts has some deterrent effect, the Bill will afford victims of domestic violence with specific protection from further violence.


The Hon. Craig Sherrin, Minister for Family Services, Hansard, (15 March 1989)
The Domestic Violence (Family Protection) Act 1989 provided, for the first time, separate legislation for the protection of spousal victims of domestic violence.9 Parliamentary debate at the time focused on a number of key issues including: that domestic violence is a pervasive but underreported crime; the need to challenge traditionally held views that women are the property of their husbands and that provocation is an excuse for violence; the desire to acknowledge
the impact of domestic violence on women, children, and communities; and the need for
government to act in order to more effectively protect victims from further abuse.
Violent husbands are not referred to as criminals, as they should be, having committed a criminal assault upon their wives. They are referred to more euphemistically as errant husbands. It is that very perception of the crime that has posed so much of a problem for its incidence to be reduced.
Ms Anne Warner, Member for South Brisbane10, Hansard, (11 April 1989)
It is hard to imagine that that sort of violence and abusive behaviour are a daily occurrence in family homes throughout this state. Our views about the essence of marriage as a loving partnership are affronted when we learn of violence behind closed doors and realise that children are witnessing that violence…As a responsible community, we simply cannot turn a blind eye to this violence.
Mrs Diane McCauley, Member for Callide11, Hansard, (11 April 1989)
The Domestic Violence (Family Protection) Act 1989 came into effect on 21 August 1989 with the endorsement of all three major political parties in Queensland at the time (Liberal, Labour and The Nationals). It was one component of a broader strategy to respond to domestic violence
as a “serious blight on Queenslanders”
12 including: the provision of intensive training programs for the Queensland Police Service (QPS) and members of the judiciary; the establishment of the Queensland Domestic Violence Council responsible for monitoring implementation and operation of the legislation; and a domestic violence awareness campaign.

Since 1989, numerous amendments have been made to the Act, including:

  • »  Broadening its scope to include people in both spousal (including same-sex relationships) and non-spousal (people in intimate personal relationships, family relationships or informal care relationships) relationships (1999 amendment Act and 2002 amendment Act)
  • »  Extending protection to relatives and associates of the aggrieved spouse (1992 amendment Act)
  • »  Extending the duration of a domestic violence order from a maximum of 12 months to two years or longer where special circumstances apply (1992 amendment Act)
  • »  Enabling the registration and enforcement of orders made in other parts of Australia or New Zealand (1992 amendment Act)
  • »  Requiring the court to take into account any history or future risk of family violence affecting a child when determining what is in the best interests of the child (1999 amendment Act).13
    The most recent major amendments resulted in the Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act 2012. These changes are intended to provide a broader and more contemporary definition of what constitutes domestic and family violence, to provide greater protections for victims, and to increase penalties for offenders.
    Legislative amendments were often accompanied by a range of social services including shelters for women and children; regional domestic and family violence services; dedicated phone services; an awareness-raising Domestic and Family Violence Month; and an advisory council. Unfortunately, the emphasis on providing a holistic response to domestic and family violence, including both legislative and community-based initiatives has diminished in Queensland. We are now the only Australian jurisdiction without a current domestic and family violence strategy.
    Recent media coverage has served to re-invigorate community interest in domestic and family violence. Correspondingly, efforts are being ramped up across Australia to review existing responses and strengthen their effectiveness in putting an end to domestic and family violence. The statistics and stories from Queenslanders received as part of this review show that there is clear momentum to redouble our efforts and build on what we have learnt from past experience. 
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