ACT News

Save
Print
License article

Police Minister Joy Burch calls for new approach to domestic violence in the ACT

Police and Emergency Services Minister Joy Burch has called for a more proactive approach to domestic violence prevention in the ACT after a "disturbing" time that has seen the Canberra community rocked by three deaths allegedly related to the problem.

Ms Burch, who also handles the education portfolio, wants to see material on relationships integrated into school curriculums in an effort to foster a zero-tolerance approach to family violence among children from an early age.

Sabah Al-Mdwali, 28, was allegedly murdered at home in Gordon on March 17. Tara Costigan, also 28, was killed in Calwell in February and Neal Keith Wilkinson, 61, died in Wanniassa on March 10.

Their deaths came in the midst of a heightened national discussion about domestic violence and as the ACT's crisis services, police force, refuges, legal aid organisations and court systems face skyrocketing demand for help. 

They also prompted the ACT government and opposition to pledge a bipartisan approach to tackling domestic violence in the territory.

Despite concerns from the police union that three concurrent homicide investigations would stretch ACT Policing resources, Ms Burch said the territory's police force was equipped to handle the added strain.

Advertisement

"I've had conversations with the Chief Police Officer Rudi Lammers and he's given me assurance and therefore my confidence is maintained that they do have the resources to manage what has been quite a disturbing time for our community with deaths and incidents.

"ACT Policing is well-resourced but it's able to deploy its resources to manage those peaks and troughs so the community should have absolute confidence."

Ms Burch said an upcoming extraordinary meeting of the territory's Domestic Violence Prevention Council would consider how police and emergency services could best operate in family violence situations.

"I think that will be where we can start to have that conversation about how do frontline responders respond, what skills do they need to respond and how do you support that front line workforce that is often experiencing and seeing quite traumatic situations.

"We've got to look after them and hold them strong too."

Ms Burch said she would like to see education material on relationships and domestic violence in schools as part of a "deeper response" to curbing offence rates.

"What I want to do is work with various community groups to say, how do we actually embed this?

"It should be lived and breathed every day within our schools."

That approach would revolve around improvements to the social and emotional learning curriculum and extra training for teachers, rather than programs run by external providers, Ms Burch said.

"Grants always run out, programs always come to an end and that shift has to be part of the fabric of socialising our young men and women."

Ms Burch said the public outpouring of grief over the death of Calwell mother-of-three Ms Costigan in particular showed the community was questioning why Canberrans had allowed high rates of domestic violence to exist for such a long time.

"When you think of the sheer fact that one in three women have experienced domestic or sexual assault, to me it's unfathomable that as a community, as a society, we have not put enough effort into saying no, and to stop this.

"We as a community have been silent for too long."

Ms Burch welcomed Australian of the Year and anti-domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty's "very poignant and loud voice" on the matter and hoped she would continue to generate a national discussion.

"I think for too long it's been too hard of a conversation to have and people think it happens to those people who aren't as well off, but it happens across all levels of society.

"The very clear leadership of Rosie Batty in bringing this conversation forward shows we have to have it. We have to have it now."