NTCOSS response to the Review of the legislation and the Justice Response to Domestic Violence in the Northern Territory – supplementary information to the legislative reform component

The Northern Territory Council of Social Service (NTCOSS) is the peak body for the Northern Territory (NT) Community and Social Services Sector and is a voice for people affected by social and economic disadvantage and inequality. NTCOSS membership is made up of community managed, non-government, not for profit organisations, which work in social and community service delivery, sector development and advocacy. The community sector plays a vital role in creating social wellbeing for all Territorians and in building safe and healthy communities by providing services that enable people to access and participate in health services, education, employment, economic development, and family and community life.

All people have the right to live a life free from violence, and NTCOSS is a strong advocate for putting an end to all forms of domestic, family and sexual violence (DFSV) in our communities and working to address the related social harms. NTCOSS advocates for and with the specialist DFSV service sector in the NT to improve safety, wellbeing, economic and social justice outcomes for individuals and communities impacted by DFSV.

NTCOSS welcomes the opportunity to provide a submission in response to Review of the Legislation and the Justice Response to Domestic Violence in the Northern Territory (the Review). This submission is a supplementary submission in response to the legislative reform components of the Review, following the systemic reform submission supplied on 12 October 2022.

The Review is ambitious and explores a range of avenues for systemic and legislative reform, noting the parameters to:

  1. improve the responsiveness of the justice system to victim-survivors and people who commit DFV;
  2. prioritise the safety and well-being of DFV victim-survivors, including children who are exposed to, and impacted by, DFV;
  3. increase the accountability of offenders for their conduct, and increase opportunities and motivation for them to change their behaviour;
  4. take into account the high percentage of Aboriginal families affected by DFV in the NT and ensure responses are culturally safe and appropriate and informed by the principles in the Aboriginal Justice Agreement (AJA); and
  5. consider whether criminalising coercive control is likely to contribute to improved responses to DFV in the NT.
    This submission will provide advice relating to the legislative reforms as set out in the Review paper.
    As noted in NTCOSS’ earlier submission to the Review (Attachment A), previous recommendations provided to Government throughout the various consultations processes undertaken over the last term of government pertaining to DFSV reform, informed by broader engagement with the community sector and the specialist DFSV sector, will be drawn on to inform this response.
    NTCOSS has chosen to use the term DFSV in this paper to reflect the work being carried out across Government as part of the DFSV-ICRO and the terminology used in the Reduction Framework, the cornerstone of DFSV reform in the Territory.
    NTCOSS notes the expertise of specialist legal member organisations; the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) and related programs, the Central Australian Aboriginal Family Legal Unit (CAAFLU) and the North Australian Aboriginal Family Legal Service (NAAFLS) and the NT Women’s Legal Services,1 and the substantial submissions that they have provided in response to this process. NTCOSS defers to these organisations and their expertise in this area, in conjunction with other specialist member organisations that have submitted to this inquiry.
    In reflection of this, the following submission is a short, high-level summary of key points noted within the reform process.

General overview
In addition to the general overview provided in the systemic reform submission earlier supplied as part of the Review, NTCOSS notes;

  • There is a need for further consultation to be carried out on a number of the reform areas, including amendments pertaining to the Information Sharing Scheme, Mandatory Reporting, any legislative amendments related to the possible introduction of a 24 Hour Specialist DFSV Referral Service2 and expanded use of recorded statements.
  • NTCOSS echoes member feedback relating to concerns that amendments may inadvertently criminalise cohorts within our community, particularly Aboriginal women.
  • While in principle NTCOSS supports the modernisation of the definitions of abuse, importing definitions used in other bodies of work that do not reflect the nuances of our communities is not necessarily best practice. NTCOSS recommends further consultation on modernising definitions in line with feedback provided throughout this review process.
  • NTCOSS notes the need for system reform to be prioritised to ensure the success of much of the proposed legislative reform. The need for system reform that supports culturally and linguistically diverse communities and clients is critical. Improving these systems as a matter of priority is critical to creating better outcomes for Territorians.
  • NTCOSS recommends that adequate resourcing is allocated to educate communities and the service sector, on any legislative changes.

in their responses to DFSV and coercive and controlling behaviours, this may further over criminalise marginalised cohorts or deter people from seeking help.
While NTCOSS also supports the introduction of the proposed new definition of coercive control in principle, the applicability of the concept of coercive control to Aboriginal people within a different cultural context (particularly the role that colonisation, disempowerment, and systemic racism has contributed to the imbalance of power) is complex. While the Review does acknowledge the impacts that criminalising coercive control may have on Aboriginal people (and women in particular), it does not consider in enough detail the ramifications that the proposed legislative amendments may have on marginalised groups (such as the misapplication of an offence resulting in the criminalisation of the victim-survivor).4
NTCOSS recommends that further consultation is carried out on the above, particularly with DFSV specialist ACCOs, generalist ACCOs, and communities, to ensure the voices and perspectives of those who will be most impacted by such a proposed change are properly consulted and informed. In addition, the need for community education programs to support any such change is critical.
NTCOSS recommends that the Government focuses on investment in systems that protect victim-survivor safety, educate and build the capacity of the judiciary and first responders to understand and respond to coercive control, along with community education and public health campaigns (developed in consultation with communities, to be delivered in a culturally safe way), as a matter of priority under Option 1. Improved system responses are critical in addressing coercive control in our communities in a non-punitive manner, that will not unfairly contribute to the over-incarceration and criminalisation of populations of people in the Territory.

NTCOSS notes the importance of the Review and the breadth of reform proposed under both legislative and systemic responses. While acknowledging this, NTCOSS notes diverse member feedback regarding many of the proposed reforms, particularly relating to potential unintended consequences as a result of some of the proposed amendments. Due to this, and in support of the view that further consultation must be carried out in response to the above noted areas, NTCOSS recommends that a draft Exposure Bill be released, to provide further opportunity for the community sector to provide input on this important work.

For more information, or to discuss this submission further, please contact:

Tessa Snowdon

Senior Policy Officer