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1. The Family Violence Protection Amendment (Information Sharing) Bill 2017 (the Bill) was passed by the Victorian Parliament on 7 June 2017. Once commenced (anticipated to be in late 2017), the Bill will amend the Family Violence Protection Act 2008 to:
▪ create a purpose-built family violence information sharing regime under a new Part 5A, authorising a ‘trusted circle’ of prescribed information sharing entities (ISEs) to share information with one another for family violence risk assessment and risk management
▪ enable the Central Information Point, once it is established, to be an effective and timely conduit of information sharing for core agencies
▪ empower the relevant Minister to require alignment by key organisations and funded agencies with the redeveloped family violence risk assessment and risk management framework so that they can better identify, assess and manage family violence risk.
2. The Bill will also remove the requirement in the Privacy and Data Protection Act 2014 and the Health Records Act 2001 that a serious threat to an individual must also be imminent before information can be lawfully shared. These amendments will apply generally, not just in the context of family violence.
Overview of the information sharing regime
3. The family violence information sharing regime is expected to be operational by the end of 2017, with an initial tranche of organisations prescribed as ISEs to support the operation of the Support and Safety Hub launch sites.
4. Under the information sharing regime, relevant information will be able to be shared between prescribed ISEs for the purposes of assessing and managing risk of family violence, of which there will be two main categories:
▪ risk assessment entities with the broadest powers to request, collect, use and disclose information for family violence assessment purposes (i.e. to establish and assess risk at the initial stages), including about alleged perpetrators
▪ protection entities, which will be a broader group of ISEs that will be permitted to request, collect, use and disclose information for family violence protection purposes (i.e. to manage risks once they have been established) or disclose information to risk assessment entities for family violence assessment purposes.
5. The key features of the reforms include:
▪ Upon request from another ISE, an ISE must share information unless the information is excluded under the scheme, provided relevant consent thresholds have been met. Excluded information includes information that, if shared, would prejudice an ongoing investigation or a coronial inquest, or would endanger a person’s life or physical safety.
▪ The regime permits information about a perpetrator to be shared without their consent (including alleged perpetrators in the case of risk assessment).
▪ When assessing risk and managing safety for an adult victim of family violence, adult victim consent will generally be required before their information can be shared. However, sharing without consent will be permitted in certain circumstances such as cases where sharing is necessary to lessen or prevent a serious threat to an individual’s life, health, safety or welfare (consistent with privacy legislation as amended by the Bill).
▪ When assessing risk and managing safety for a child victim, consent will not be required from any person prior to information being shared. This gives explicit recognition to the precedence of a child’s right to be safe from family violence over any individual’s rights to privacy. It also enables early intervention where child victims are involved without requiring that a threat to a child become serious before relevant information can be shared without consent.
▪ The responsible Minister must issue guidelines under the scheme and these must be published for public consultation prior to being finalised. The guidelines will deal with a number of issues relevant to responsible and appropriate information sharing and must include guidance in relation to consent for child victims.
▪ ISEs will be permitted to share information with the victim in order to enable them to manage their safety and that of their child.
▪ Professionals who share information in good faith and with reasonable care will be protected from any legal or disciplinary consequences for sharing information.
▪ The regime provides penalties for unauthorised information sharing, and for complaints to be made to the Commissioner for Privacy and Data Protection and the Health Complaints Commissioner.
6. Certain features of the new Part 5A will be particularly significant to the successful implementation of the new reforms. These include:
▪ regulations prescribing information sharing entities under the regime, including which organisations will be risk assessment entities
▪ development of and public consultation on draft Ministerial guidelines
▪ development of a core package of training materials and communications to support implementation and the guidelines
7. Over the coming months, the Victorian Government will continue to work with key stakeholders, including consultation on the content of the regulations and guidelines, to ensure the views of the family violence sector and others affected by the reforms are taken into account prior to the commencement of the new information sharing regime in late 2017.