PARTS of a person’s criminal history will be available to their current or former partners under a Liberal Nationals government.
But the leaders of central Victorian specialist agencies have warned the proposed Family Violence Disclosure Scheme could lull people into a false sense of security.
“People need to know that just because there are no criminal convictions, that person is not necessarily safe,” Annie North chief executive Julie Oberin said.
If the Liberal Nationals were elected to government in November, they would establish a scheme enabling people to apply to receive information about their partner’s proven violent offences.
Friends, relatives, or professionals working with the family – ‘a concerned third party’ – could also be eligible to apply for information relevant to a person’s history of family violence.
“We want to make sure people at risk of family violence aren’t kept in the dark, which is why we will give Victorians the right to ask and the right to know about any history of violent criminal offences or a current or former partner," opposition leader Matthew Guy said.
Victoria Police would be responsible for making disclosures, with a support person present.
Ms Oberin said it was important disclosure recipients understood the limitations of the proposed scheme.
“For example, it will show up breaches of intervention orders but won’t show up that the person has had multiple intervention orders taken out against them,” she said.
“It will only show up a history of violence which has been criminally convicted and we know that most perpetrators use coercive control techniques with their victims which tends to escalate.”
Disclosure recipients would be prohibited from publishing, sharing or misusing any information they received and would have to sign an undertaking.
“Signing an undertaking may work as long as the message is really clear about the potential serious consequences to them if they publish the identifying information,” Ms Oberin said.
She suggested such a scheme should be accompanied by a public education message and information for the potential person at risk.
Centre for Non-Violence chief executive Margaret Augerinos said it might be more sensible for the Liberal Nationals to be encouraging people to contact specialist services.
“We’re already doing quite a bit of work as broader systems to identify and manage risk from perpetrators,” she said.
Ms Augerinos urged the parties to ‘proceed carefully’ and to ensure victim survivors had as much support as possible in the event of disclosures.
The subject of the application would not be notified of any efforts to learn about their criminal history, or any disclosures, to protect those at risk.
Similar schemes are either in place or being trialled elsewhere internationally and in Australia, including New South Wales and South Australia.
“In other places around the world where this scheme is operating it is found to be increasing the safety of people potentially at risk of family violence, which is one of the reasons why we need to try it here in Victoria,” Mr Guy said.
The proposed Victorian scheme draws inspiration from ‘Clare’s Law’, which was implemented in the UK after British woman Clare Wood was murdered by her ex-boyfriend, George Appleton, in 2009.
She had been unaware of Appleton’s history of violence.
Loddon Campaspe Centre Against Sexual Assault chief executive Kate Wright said she would like to learn more about how the proposed Victorian scheme would contribute to the prevention of violence.
“This type of scheme is implemented oversees and being trialled in other states so I would like to see the evaluations and evidence demonstrating the efficacy of how this scheme assists women and children experiencing violence,” she said.
Peak body Domestic Violence Victoria noted the scheme was not among the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Family Violence.
DV Vic chief executive Fiona McCormack said she appreciated the Victorian Coalition’s focus on family violence, but recognised a need to move away from the tendency in the past of having a change in direction, depending on the government of the day.
“What is needed is long term, bi-partisan effort to see the delivery of every one of the 227 recommendations,” she said.
The Liberal Nationals believe the scheme will save lives and protect ‘many, many people, particularly women’.
Shadow Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence, Georgie Crozier, said there were no innocent bystanders when it came to family violence.
“If you are concerned about a loved one, this scheme will allow you to get any relevant information to them to help them make an informed decision about their relationship,” she said.
If you or someone you know is experiencing violence or sexual assault, call 1800 RESPECT on 1800 373 372 or visit www.1800respect.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.
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