A senate inquiry into domestic violence, set up days after a Brisbane mother and her three children were burned to death, has wrapped up three months early, without taking submissions or holding public hearings.
The move has drawn outrage from both the Law Council of Australia and crossbench senator Rex Patrick, who wrote a scathing dissenting report, claiming the committee “did not discharge its responsibility to the parliament and, more importantly, the public”.
After the murder of Hannah Clarke and her children at the hands of their estranged partner and father, the Senate’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee was asked to report on domestic and family violence in Australia.
The inquiry was given wide scope to examine the issue of family violence, including the implementation of previous recommendations, the adequacy of current measures and how the government could address cultural change.
But in its final report, tabled on Tuesday, the committee said it “formed the view that conducting another lengthy, broad-ranging public inquiry into domestic and family violence in Australia at this time would be of limited value”.
The report was compiled without calling for public submissions or holding public hearings. Labor senator Kim Carr, who chairs the committee, said they would have been of limited value given the coronavirus pandemic.
“We are in the middle of a pandemic, we wanted to take this seriously and provide advice to the senate as to the current state of play,” he said.
Senator Patrick said he pushed for the inquiry after Ms Clarke’s murder, believing it showed too many cases were not being addressed by governments.
He said the committee “has not done its job properly”, by choosing not to seek submissions or hold hearings.
“In the normal course of a senate committee, that’s just unheard of,” he said.
“That is unforgiveable, that is a committee not doing its job properly.”
Law council labels report a ‘scanty literature review’
The Law Council of Australia president Pauline Wright said her organisation was hoping for the chance to make a submission to the inquiry, so senators could hear firsthand from the experts.
“It’s a really sad failure of regard for the lives of Australians who’ve been lost to domestic violence,” she said.
“It seems that this report is the outcome of a fairly scanty literature review.
“It demonstrates a lack of commitment by the decision makers to address this really serious community problem.”
But Senator Carr said the inquiry was not conducted “in a half-arsed manner”.
“We wanted to ensure the report responded directly to the terms of reference, particularly in times when it’s difficult to get people together in an effective manner,” he said.
“We’ve added to the store of knowledge that’s available to the senate so that we can inform public policy accordingly.”
When the inquiry was set up by the senate, Labor expressed concern that the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee was not the best place to deal with the issue, something Senator Carr repeated.
But Senator Patrick said that was no excuse for not conducting a thorough inquiry.
“Domestic violence comes across a number of different areas of government, including courts, including legal-related matters,” he said.
“The senate has the ability to modify referrals, and if people truly believed it was the wrong committee, it could have been dealt with there and then.”
Family violence support services
1800 Respect national helpline 1800 737 732
Women’s Crisis Line 1800 811 811
Men’s Referral Service 1300 766 491
Lifeline (24 hour crisis line) 131 114
Relationships Australia 1300 364 277