The head of a Bendigo women's refuge has slammed the final plan of a 12-year strategy to end violence against women and children for its failure to support existing women's services.
The Council of Australian Governments' fourth action plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children 2010-2022 centres on prevention and addressing gender inequality as the key to ending violence against women.
Annie North's chief executive officer Julie Oberin said while she supported this, the plan also needed to outline investment in the services that were protecting women who were presently facing harm.
One of the priorities of the plan is to 'improve support and service system responses', with actions focused on providing trauma-informed support, collaboration across services and sectors, building the evidence base to inform responses to violence, and improving access to accommodation.
But Ms Oberin had hoped for the strengthening of women's services, especially with more people seeking help.
The Commonwealth's financial contribution to the plan, she said, had not boosted the workforce of specialist women's services, nor provided them with more resources.
"Women's services have been working at the frontline for decades... and women's services are being eroded and erased, something we can't afford to happen," Ms Oberin said.
Ms Oberin said her staff were stretched trying to provide the necessary services.
Margaret Augerinos, the head of the Centre for Non-Violence, also said prevention and achieving gender equality were important priorities but the plan did not show the federal government's commitment to supporting frontline services.
"The more we increase awareness and understanding through prevention efforts, the greater the demand on frontline services," Ms Augerinos said.
"Our national and state helplines as well as frontline specialist family violence services are under significant pressure."
With CNV exceeding its funded targets by about 50 per cent last year, she said services across the region needed significant funding boosts.
Ms Oberin said more consistent policing and judicial responses, such as harsher penalties for perpetrators, were also required.
She was concerned government believed the violence would remain static until gender equality was achieved.
"I feel despair that the governments have given up on trying to save women's and children's lives," Ms Oberin said.
The organisation Our Watch has welcomed the plan.
"The Fourth Action Plan is an important commitment to achieving substantial structural and social change to reduce violence against women and their children, acknowledging that women will never be safe unless they are equal," Our Watch CEO Patty Kinnersly said.
Our Watch is now calling on COAG to commit to a second national plan to continue the work beyond 2022.
New police tool to address family violence
Meanwhile, police are changing the way they manage their reports of family violence in a bid to improve protection for victims.
Officers will now be able to complete reports out in the field when responding to incidents and make referrals immediately, under a new family violence reporting tool and the roll-out of mobile technology to all frontline officers.
Victoria Police's Family Violence Command Assistant Commissioner Dean McWhirter said officers were given a guided set of questions to ask victims of family violence.
"These questions are designed to identify risk and it actually causes members to think about what they need to do to intervene in those circumstances and to put protective mechanisms around the victim," he said.
The new family violence report will help predict the likelihood of future family violence and severe family violence, which will determine who manages the investigation.
The highest risk cases will be looked after by specialist Family Violence Investigation Units.
Assistant Commissioner McWhirter said there was a significant reduction in severe family violence-related harm over the two years it was trialled in two policing divisions, in combination with specialist responses.
Centre for Non-Violence chief executive Margaret Augerinos said it was hoped the tool would help police better identify when they needed to make referrals to specialised services.
She said the tool did not replace the risk and safety assessments of trained specialists, and CNV would continue to work with police and others in the system.
Julie Oberin, chief executive officer of women's refuge Annie North, said she was concerned police had developed their own tool, rather than using the multi-agency risk assessment and management (MARAM) framework that was developed to address family violence.
The government says the MARAM tool is beneficial because the understanding of risk assessment and management will be shared across the service system.
Victoria Police says its new tool is consistent with the MARAM framework and most of the same risk factors are included.
But Ms Oberin said it was good Victoria Police was "increasing their focus on family violence, increasing their risk assessment and risk management, and acknowledging the prevalence of it compared to other police work".
"Stronger police risk assessment and risk management is crucial in saving the lives of victims of family violence," she said.
"It will also result in much needed earlier intervention before the threat to harm escalates further."
Police responded to more than 1800 family violence incidents in the Greater Bendigo area in the year to March - a 20.8 per cent increase on the previous year.
Across the state, Police Minister Lisa Neville said, police responded to a family violence matter every seven minutes and almost 50 per cent of all crimes against a person related to family violence.
Assistant Commissioner McWhirter said 40 to 60 per cent of frontline response time was spent on family violence.
The tool was developed with Swinburne University and Forensicare, the provider of forensic mental health care.
The new reporting system and mobile technology meets one of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Family Violence.
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