Family violence complaints allegedly perpetrated by Victorian police officers should not be investigated by Victoria Police, parliament was told recently.

A report by public integrity monitor, the Victorian Inspectorate, highlighted failures by the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission in handling complaints about police.

The report, IBAC’s referral and oversight of Emma’s complaints about Victoria Police, detailed an account of a woman named Emma reporting violence perpetrated by her then-partner, a Victoria Police officer, being referred back to Victoria Police.

It highlighted severe risks to complainants from such procedure.

Victoria Police responses included leaking the victim’s escape plan back to the perpetrator on the grounds of ‘member welfare’, which resulted in serious and brutal retaliatory violence against her and her children.

The Victorian Inspectorate has made four recommendations detailing how IBAC could improve its handling of police complaints, marking only the second time it has tabled a public report since its formation 10 years ago.

Lauren Caulfield from Flat Out, a state-wide advocacy and support service for women, trans and gender-diverse people, coordinates Beyond Survival: The Policing Family Violence Project and says sweeping failures are a shocking indictment of a system that continues to see police investigating themselves.

“These sweeping failures, and the harm they cause to the victim-survivors – mainly women and children – experiencing family violence by police officers, are a shocking indictment of a system that continues to see police investigating themselves; It’s a system that provides impunity to violent officers,” Ms Caulfield said.

“IBAC, Victoria’s anti-corruption watchdog, says they will prioritise investigating and exposing harmful police responses to family violence, including violence and predatory behaviour by police, but their record so far shows serious delays, investigative mishandling and a pattern of referring the overwhelming majority of complaints back to Victoria Police.

“Knowing that most complaints will be sent directly back to Victoria Police for investigation makes complaining about police responses to family violence incredibly risky for victim-survivors,” she said.

“Most victims we work with avoid complaining at all, leaving many harmful police responses unreported and beyond any public accountability.

“For family members of police officers who are using family violence against them, the risks of making a complaint are even greater.

“This is not about resourcing; it’s about a system that continuously prioritises police over the safety and wellbeing of victim-survivors and justice for communities,” Ms Caulfield said.

“The violence and harm that victims are experiencing require skilled family violence and sexual assault response, and one that is both robust, independent and specialised.

“Rather than ever-more funding to police responses, and to IBAC investigations that have continued to endorse these – regardless of the harm to victim-survivors – it’s time for a system overhaul.”

Victorian Inspectorate’s special report slammed IBAC for disputing the “soundness” of its inquiry and describing the commission’s approach to its review as undermining the state’s integrity system, detailing a litany of issues with the police-complaints system, posing an ongoing risk to survivors of domestic and family violence.

IBAC Deputy Commissioner Kylie Kilgour was quick to release a statement saying, “IBAC recognises that Emma and her children are victims of family violence perpetrated by a Victoria Police officer, and their welfare should be a priority”.

“Family violence is unacceptable, and there is no place for perpetrators in Victoria Police,” Deputy Commissioner Kilgour said.

“Victims should feel safe to come forward to both Victoria Police and IBAC.

“We acknowledge Emma’s frustration with the inadequate investigation by Victoria Police and the delays in handling the complaints IBAC referred to Victoria Police in 2018 and 2021.

“IBAC completed a thorough review which enabled it to correct several issues with Victoria Police’s investigation of Emma’s 2018 complaint,” Deputy Commissioner Kilgour said.

“Victoria Police is still investigating elements of the 2021 complaint, and this will also be subject to review by IBAC.”

IBAC made clear that it supports the intent of the Inspectorate’s recommendations, which relate to policies and procedures aimed at better recording of decisions, noting that these recommendations will likely require additional resources from the government to implement.

“IBAC is committed to a strong Victoria Police oversight system, which ensures complaints are addressed with both transparency and accountability,” Deputy Commissioner Kilgour said.

“Victoria’s police oversight system is a mixed civilian model, in which Victoria Police are resourced to conduct the majority of the investigations of complaints.

“Without government reform to IBAC’s jurisdiction and funding, which we would welcome, IBAC has little choice but to refer matters such as Emma’s to Victoria Police,” she said.

“Through the government’s current review of Victoria’s police oversight system, IBAC has advocated for stronger powers to respond to and support victims of police misconduct.”

Deputy Commissioner Kilgour said the commission “does not wish to detract from Emma’s important story, but IBAC is concerned about the process the Inspectorate followed in conducting its review.

“The Inspectorate’s report does not accurately or adequately reflect IBAC’s role and the limitations of the police oversight system in which we operate, and it, therefore, misses an opportunity to make meaningful recommendations for reform,” she said.

IBAC ultimately accepted all recommendations made by the Victorian Inspectorate after examining how Emma’s complaint was dealt with detailed in the report.