Antoinette Braybrook

With no First Nations women on a new domestic violence panel, advocates say the government has questions to answer

"The exclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women from this panel does little to ensure that our women can self-determine the ‘solutions’ needed for our recovery and our healing," says Antoinette Braybrook.

At the end of May, it was announced the government had assembled a panel of experts to address the epidemic of family violence in Australia.

The panel has been tasked with conducting a “rapid review” and delivering its findings later this year.

However, the makeup of the panel was met with mixed reactions as it does not include an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander woman. 

Costing $1.3 million over two years, the government’s panel’s “rapid review” includes:

  • Jess Hill, journalist and author of See What You Made Me Do

  • Todd Fernando, former Victorian LGBTQIA+ communities commissioner, co-founder of Koorie Pride Victoria and academic

  • Leigh Gassner, assistant commissioner of Victoria Police

  • Anne Summers, journalist and key figure in establishing early women's and children's refuges

  • Elena Campbell, academic

  • Zac Seidler, academic and global director of men's health research at Movember

Once again, Indigenous women are sidelined from an issue that disproportionately affects their community. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are 32 times more likely to be hospitalised for injuries due to violence than non-Indigenous women and they are eight times more likely to be a victim of homicide. In some areas of the country, these figures are higher. 

Antoinette Braybrook is the CEO of Djirra, an Aboriginal community controlled organisation committed to preventing and addressing family violence through the support of Aboriginal women and families.

Braybrook, a Kuku Yalanji woman, said Djirra was very concerned by the exclusion of Aboriginal women from the panel.

“Djirra has been advocating for decades to keep Aboriginal women’s voices at the table, yet once again we have been excluded from the national agenda,” she said.

“Six weeks after the crisis meeting of the National Cabinet on women’s safety, the deafening silence tells us we have so much more to do.”

In response to the backlash of the exclusion of Indigenous women, Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth told the ABC in a statement, the panel would work alongside First Nations organisations in developing the rapid review.

"This work is being driven by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Council and First Nations National Plan Steering Committee, and the Expert Panel will work closely with these already-established groups, which are led by women with a breadth of lived experience, sector experience and academic knowledge. "

In a statement to Missing Perspectives, Minister for Women, Senator Katy Gallagher said: "Domestic and family violence is a scourge that must be eliminated from our communities.

"We know that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women continue to experience violence at an unacceptably high rate. That is why we are working closely with First Nations women to develop the first ever standalone National Plan for First Nations family safety.

In May, the Albanese Government announced that a small, expert group would conduct a rapid review focusing on violence prevention strategies and men’s behavioural change. The expert panel was always intended to complement the extensive work already underway under the National Plan, including the critical work being led by First Nations women."

Ms Braybrook said it was not enough to consult with Indigenous women at various times throughout the process.

“Our lived and on the ground experience working at the frontline of Aboriginal women’s safety must underpin the entire process,” said Ms Braybrook.

Ms Braybrook said an important aspect of this conversation is that some Aboriginal women are also misidentified as perpetrators.

Earlier this month, the Yoorrook Justice Commission heard the misidentification of Aboriginal women was a systemic problem within the Victoria Police. Yoorrook, Australia’s first truth-telling inquiry, heard women were being locked up and separated from their children even though they were victims.

The Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS) called for more funding for community controlled organisations to address family violence against Aboriginal women.

VALS Chief Executive, Nerita Waight said police were responsible for a unique type of violence against Aboriginal women where their status as victims was devalued.

“As a result, they are often over-policed as people who use violence, but they're under-policed as (victims)," she told the inquiry.

Ms Braybrook echoed Ms Waight’s comments, pointing to Djirra’s work in the community.

“At least 1 in 4 of the Aboriginal women Djirra supports is misidentified as the primary aggressor and hence is criminalised by Police for the violence they experience,” she said.

“This leads to further trauma, incarceration, and the removal of children from their mums.”

Without Aboriginal women sitting at the table, the robustness of the panel’s ability to address complex issues such as these, is questionable. 

Ms Braybrook said the exclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women from a national conversation that disproportionately affects their community happens “all too often” and the government has questions to answer.

“The Government needs to answer the question ‘Why did they leave us out?” she said.

“The exclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women from this panel does little to ensure that our women can self-determine the ‘solutions’ needed for our recovery and our healing.

“Now that we have raised these concerns, the government won’t make it right by handpicking a sole First Nations woman for the panel.

“Djirra calls for our National Family Violence Prevention and Legal Services leadership to have a seat at the table. This panel will be strengthened and can only benefit from our 25 years of on the ground experience at the frontline of Aboriginal women’s safety across the country.”

Missing Perspectives has contacted the office of Minister for Women Katy Gallagher, and Minister for Social Services Amanda Rishworth for comment.