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Budget slights domestic violence services



It's frustrating that in its 2018 budget the government could map out the costings of a seven-year tax cut package but wouldn't secure that same forecast period of funding for frontline domestic violence services.

The Line anti-violence campaignEvery year around the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (25 November), politicians with white ribbons pinned to their suits deliver passionate speeches about protecting women from domestic violence. But when it comes to implementing life saving measures, their lack of action speaks louder than words.

Keeping Australians safe was one part of the government's five key points in the budget plan. Safety concerns are mentioned multiple times in Treasurer Scott Morrison's speech and touch on securing borders, improving roads, city safety and preventing elder abuse. Yet there was no mention of safety for those escaping violence, let alone money for frontline services and safe housing.

Funding for women's refuges is currently allocated under the homelessness agenda, which raises issues because of the specialist services required by victims of domestic violence — appropriate cultural and linguistic support including translation services, trauma counselling, access to legal advice and representation, and schooling for children.

The 2015 Australian of the year Rosie Batty's heartbreaking story and campaigning helped shine a spotlight on domestic violence. The minister for women at the time, Michaelia Cash, said an impactful campaign similar to those against smoking or drink driving was needed to bridge a gap in Australians' understanding about domestic violence.

The 2015-16 budget reflected that public pressure to address the scourge of domestic violence — announcements included a $30 million state-federal awareness campaign on reducing violence against women and their children.

This was followed in September by an additional $100 million Women's Safety Package including a big advertising campaign to address the root causes of family violence — later added to with a further $100 million thanks in part to the campaigning efforts of groups like Fair Agenda.


"The decision to direct large amounts of funding towards domestic violence awareness campaigns without improving frontline service delivery has left many victims vulnerable."


On the flip side, the success of the advertising campaign has strained resources as it drastically increased the number of people fleeing abusive situations. Leaving a violent home or taking legal action such as taking out an apprehended violence order is usually the most dangerous time in a relationship. The finality of such actions often leads domestic violence perpetrators to act irrationally — which can lead to them causing grievous bodily harm to victims, and in some cases killing them.

Domestic Violence NSW CEO Moo Baulch said women's refuges were often, if not always, full. Shortfalls mean some victims live temporarily in their car, or on the street while waiting for more permanent accommodation. For those with children, being left without a roof over their heads isn't really an option, and so they take a big risk by staying in a dangerous situation. Hence the decision to direct large amounts of funding towards domestic violence awareness campaigns without improving frontline service delivery has left many victims vulnerable.

Short term funding and funding cuts create an uncertainty which leads to staffing cuts or staff on rolling contracts, relocation of services, and increased caseloads. All of this makes it hard for organisations like community legal centres, homelessness services and women's shelters to support those escaping violent situations.

In 2013-14 Australia's oldest running refuge, Beryl Women Inc., received a 32 per cent funding cut over a three-year period. Outputs are increasing, but it faces an uncertain future if more cuts were to occur. Refuges around the country are facing similar pressures — with some women even being sent interstate due to lack of capacity.

One in six Australian women will experience intimate partner violence in their lifetime, while First Nations women are 34 times more likely to be hospitalised due to domestic violence. At the time of publication 24 women have been killed this year. The year before it was 49. Imagine what a certainty of funding for frontline domestic services could do to reduce this number.

In the government's budget there were some concessions for women's safety. $6.7 million was given to continue DV Alert — a domestic violence response training program for community and frontline workers. $11.5 million was also allocated to enhance the capacity of trauma specialists for counselling phone line 1800RESPECT. This is presumably in response to recommendations from a Senate inquiry into the controversial changes to 1800 RESPECT which attracted complaints — it was 'basically a privatisation', 70 specialists had been made redundant, and not all first responders were trained trauma specialists.

On the morning of its budget reply, Labor released its women's budget . Its violence against women measures included $43.2 million to reform the court system so victims of family violence can't be cross examined by perpetrators, and $88 million for a new Safe Housing Fund to increase transitional housing options for women and children escaping domestic and family violence and other vulnerable people.

Australians will have to wait until September for the government's women's budget — marking its return after being scuttled by Tony Abbott in 2014, when he was not only prime minister but also women's minister.

The lack of secure, sustainable, long term funding for frontline domestic services puts Australians at risk every day. It's time for politicians to put their money where their mouth is.



Eliza BerlageEliza Berlage is a Canberra based journalist and podcast producer with a background in sociology. She currently works in the Parliament House press gallery as a researcher for The Conversation's chief political correspondent Michelle Grattan.

Main image from The Line anti-violence campaign

Topic tags: Eliza Berlage, Budget 2018, domestic violence, violence against women



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Existing comments

It should not go unrecorded that the 35% cut in funding to Beryl Women Inc in the ACT in 2013-14 and 2014-15 was not implemented by the incumbent Abbott Federal Government of the time. The cuts were imposed by the ACT Labor Government, with its ideals of gender equality and social responsibility, lead by the Chief Minister, Katy Gallagher. It would be fascinating to hear Gallagher's reason for the cuts. After being head hunted to the senate in the Federal Parliament in 2014 as a Labor senator, Gallagher was disqualified from sitting by the High Court on May 9 this year for failing to renounce her British citizenship before entering Australia's Parliament, contrary to the rules in place for 113 years which should have been easily understood by anyone capable of participating in responsible government. And the Labor Party are now announcing their Women's Budget, no doubt favouring women who will be ignored yet again once their votes have been secured. One wonders to what depths of disingenuity this mob will sink in order to win government and a life long pension.

john frawley | 15 May 2018  

A very well written article that shows me that the only real solution to stemming violence against females by males in both Australia and The States is to throw the old, wealthy white males from office and elect more females at local, state and federal levels. Males have had their chance for about 50,000 years as the physically dominant homo sapien sex and that's long enough. As we say in Italian, "Basta!"

Wayne LiVoti | 15 May 2018  

It's laudable to allocate more money to supporting women fleeing domestic violence. The horrifying statistics (number of women killed by partners) attest to this. However, even when women are able to leave a violent situation - a hugely difficult task - a number of partners then stalk and kill when the woman is living in another location. The complexity and precariousness of the situation of domestic violence victims calls for a rethink about methods of protection and allocation of resources.

Pam | 15 May 2018  

I really wonder who’s being disingenuous in playing politics instead of addressing the pressing issue, mr frawley. Eliza Berlage’s article is intelligent and articulate. In DV and family violence, the issues are many and complex, yet the media focuses almost entirely on physical and sexualised violence. It is time to recognise - and outlaw - the whole range of controlling and terrorising behaviours that sociologist Evan Stark has described as Coercive Control. In fact, it is long overdue. Will we ever have politicians in this nation who have the will to address DV in real, long-lasting ways - or will women and children continue to fall into the de facto “expendable” category?

Alistair P D Bain | 15 May 2018  

Hello Alistair. The disingenuity I was referring to was the considerable gap between what the Labor party espouses in relation to women's issues and actually practices. Mind you, the other mob are not necessarily any better. There was a time when I was chairman of the Anti-violence Committee of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons during the tenure of Howard's government. It was A committee which made significant recommendations acknowledged by Howard in the implementation of his feted gun control laws. The committee also made submissions to Howard's government on women's refuges and domestic violence including a significant input from Molly Ingram, at the time the indigenous female Commissioner for Aboriginal Affairs in NSW. The Howard government failed to respond or indeed reply to any of the correspondence because this issue did not have the high profile at the time (1990s) which it has today and was unlikely to win votes for the government. The same disingenuity that I see in today's Labor Party's efforts in cutting funding in the ACT. I agree that this article is articulate but I was addressing the impression it gave that the ACT cuts came with the Abbott government.

john frawley | 16 May 2018  

I'm disturbed by the trivial click-bait stock photo. Do young guys really tattoo slogans like that on the back of their shoulder? If a an really had the time to think through his abusive behaviour, would he really go ahead with tattooing his violent impulses permanently on his body? I think this image speaks volumes - the problem lies in the demonising of men as "other". As an imperfect, sometimes angry male withy still a lot to learning about my relationships with women AND men, I don't relate to that image at all.

AURELIUS | 16 May 2018  

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