Dedicated domestic violence prevention officers in local government can make our communities safer

Local government has renewed its commitment to preventing violence against women and children, saying it wants to work more closely with other levels of government to drive outcomes.

Attending this week’s National Summit on Women’s Safety, Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) President Linda Scott called for dedicated domestic and family violence prevention officers in every state and territory local government association.

This will assist local government to maximise its capacity to contribute to the prevention of domestic violence through targeted, ongoing support to councils across the country, Cr Scott said.

Local government’s willingness to play a bigger role in the prevention of violence against women was recognised by a federal parliamentary inquiry into family, domestic and sexual violence in 2020.

The inquiry recommended the state and commonwealth co-fund dedicated family and domestic violence policy officers on a 50-50 basis to empower councils to prevent violence against women. 

It also recommended that the federal, state and territory governments directly involve local governments in the development and implementation of Australia’s next national plan to reduce violence against women and their children.

Cr Scott said preventing domestic and family violence meant changing attitudes, practices, and norms across society.

This required sustained, coordinated, and resourced action across governments, their agencies, non-profit organisation, NGOs, and local communities.

“Prevention of violence against women is everyone’s responsibility,” Cr Scott said.

“We all have a duty to facilitate and support actions that reduce its incidence and impacts and to support its victims.

“As the level of government closest to the community, many councils are doing just that.

“A key focus of local government associations and councils is developing family violence prevention strategies and providing financial support for local refuges and shelters.

“Local governments are also driving small but critically important reforms like promoting respectful workplaces, embedding gender equity in public places, and promoting attitudinal and behavioural change in children and young adults.”

In 2020, working with the federal government and non-profit agency Our Watch, ALGA launched an online resource to help local governments prevent violence against women in their workplaces and communities.

Representatives from ALGA, Our Watch, and state and territory local government associations meet regularly to progress prevention workforce development strategies, training opportunities, and other initiatives to prevent violence against women.   

While acknowledging the difficulty of quick progress, Cr Scott said there were grounds for optimism.

“Community awareness of violence against women and their children is growing,” she said.

“The quality and availability of support services are increasing, as is women’s trust in them.

“I know all councils are looking critically at their workplace policies and their community engagement programs to make sure that we are doing the best we can to make a difference on this issue.”

Local government awaits the Australian Government’s response to the 2020 inquiry recommendations and continues to advocate for adequate financial support for local government.

“Violence against women is an incredibly challenging matter and there is still so much to do,” Cr Scott said.

“Only by working together can we make our communities safer.”