Parents of Brisbane woman Hannah Clarke, who was murdered alongside her children by her estranged husband in 2020, have welcomed the state government’s announcement of an inquiry into police practices in domestic violence investigations and funding for new laws against coercive control.
- There were a total of 89 recommendations, resulting from 700 submissions, including from DV survivors
- The report wrote many survivors felt let down by police and the judicial system
- There will also be funding towards setting up new laws against cooercive control
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said an independent commission of inquiry would be held into practices within the Queensland Police Service (QPS) as part of a raft of recommendations adopted from a domestic violence taskforce report.
About $363 million will go toward implementing recommendations, which includes the inquiry and to continue establishing laws to criminalise coercive control.
Hannah Clarke’s parents, Lloyd and Sue, were in the gallery to watch the announcement and said it was an incredibly moving day, and that the pair would not rest until the laws were in place.
“Today is an emotional day for us,” Mr Clarke said.
“This is why we formed [foundation] Small Steps 4 Hannah, to give our four angels a voice and make change.
“We’re grateful the government has come on board, they’ve always been in the background there with us talking, and we’re so grateful they’re going to make coercive control laws.
“To the police force – they’ve always been behind us as well, but they’re underfunded and [there’s a] lack of recognition of coercive control, but with this money hopefully it will make things a lot better.”
Hannah Clarke was murdered along with her three children Aaliyah, 6, Laianah, 4, and Trey, 3, in February 2020 after they were doused in petrol by her estranged husband.
Sue Clarke said her daughter’s first dealing with the police was positive but it was clear not every victim’s initial interaction was as positive.
“She was very lucky, her first dealing with the police force, she had a wonderful woman there who believed her and helped her understand what she was going through – she didn’t understand,” she said.
“So we’ve been very lucky like that but they still need a lot of education because not every woman gets such a good police officer first encounter.”
Vanessa Fowler – the sister of Allison Baden-Clay and co-chair of the Queensland Government Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Council – said if coercive control laws were in place, they would have helped her sister.
“In Allison’s case there certainly was coercive control and we as a family didn’t recognise that because at that time there wasn’t a lot of education around it, people were not talking about it,” she said.
Acting Queensland Police Service Commissioner Steve Gollschewski said in a statement the service would fully cooperate with the commission of inquiry.
“As a service, we are absolutely committed to supporting victims of DFV [domestic and family violence] and holding perpetrators to account,” he said.
“The QPS responds to most DFV incidents very effectively, however we acknowledge there have been some instances where we have not gotten it right and our organisation welcomes the opportunity to learn and improve.
“Responding to incidents of DFV is often challenging and complex.
“The inquiry is an opportunity for us to understand and reflect on what we can do, within our service, to better protect victims of DFV.”
Bill to be introduced by next year
The state government is set to introduce the bill to criminalise coercive control before the end of 2023.
Coercive control is a pattern of behaviour, which includes isolating a partner from family and friends, monitoring their movements, controlling access to money and psychological and emotional manipulation.
Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman told Parliament the state government was committed to legislating “against this insidious form of abuse”.
“Queensland woman and children deserve to live free from the threat of violence without fear for their safety.”
The Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce, headed by former Court of Appeal president Margaret McMurdo, conducted the review into the experience of domestic and sexual violence victims in Queensland’s criminal justice system and handed its report to the government in December.
It included 89 recommendations, which were the result of more than 700 submissions, 500 of those from survivors who shared their lived experiences.
Ms Palaszczuk told Parliament the inquiry into the Queensland Police Service will run for four months.
“Today I can announce historic and wide-reaching reforms to help address this issue,” she said.
“As a result of those submissions we will also conduct a commission of inquiry into police practices investigating reports of domestic and family violence.
In the report, Justice McMurdo wrote that many of the people the taskforce heard from felt let down by police and judicial responses to domestic violence.
“I did not expect to hear that women perceived their perpetrators are emboldened by police, legal practitioners and judicial officers,” she said.
“Many feel that the justice system is failing them.”
While the taskforce was complimentary of the QPS’s leadership, specialist units and individual officers, it also heard many police officers across the state were not responding to women’s complaints of domestic violence.
Many of the report’s recommendations concerned the QPS, particularly a recommendation to establish an independent commission of inquiry to examine “widespread cultural issues” within the police service.
The recommendation of a commission of inquiry into the QPS was previously deemed unnecessary by Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll, and the police union called it an overreach.
Former Queensland police commissioner and co-chair of the Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Council Bob Atkinson said he hoped the commission of inquiry into the QPS would be wide-ranging.
“I would hope that it would be a broad approach that would look at aspects such a training and awareness, and the degree of difficulty potentially in assessing a situation where you’re there first hand and hopefully the follow up in relation to things like that,” he said.
In a tabled response, the state government has agreed to support, or support in principle, all 89 recommendations with some recommendations needing consultation with the Chief Justice of the Queensland Law Society and Bar Association on whether there is a need for an independent statutory judicial commission in Queensland.
The funding package will also support an expansion of the domestic and family violence courts, funding for perpetrator programs to change men’s behaviour and to bolster high-risk teams and co-responder models to ensure victims receive a joint response from police and DFV services.
The taskforce is currently undertaking its second report examining the experience of women across the criminal justice system.
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