The women of Australia deserve more than cheap words

Instead of asking "why doesn't she leave?" we should be asking "where will she go?"

By Senator Larissa Waters
Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The safety net for survivors of domestic violence is full of holes, and our politicians know it.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has declared loudly and repeatedly that while not all disrespect towards women results in violence, all violence against women starts with disrespect.

And he is right, gender inequality is at the heart of domestic violence and a cultural shift is desperately needed.

Until we as a society value women and girls as equal, violence against us will remain endemic.

Raising awareness of domestic violence, telling women and girls it’s wrong and that they deserve to be safe and can leave, is a good thing.

But to do so while simultaneously choosing to chronically underfund and refuse to give funding security to frontline DV services isn’t.

Crisis point

In Queensland, increasing demand has seen domestic violence-related legal casework in the community sector rise by 355 per cent. That isn’t just a figure. It’s real women, real children, trying to break free from violence, and in some cases it’s a matter of life and death.

So what has the Federal Government done to address the huge increase in the number of women seeking help?

Unbelievably, and until very recently, they wanted to cut community legal centres funding by 30 per cent, a move that would have cost lives.

The decision has since been reversed thanks to years of concerted community and political pressure. But this welcome backflip came so late that community legal centres had already had to let staff go, and had diverted precious time and resources into campaigning against the cuts.

And just reversing the cuts is not enough. The $55.7 million promised by Attorney-General George Brandis barely covers them, and barely keeps up with inflation.

Where do you turn?

The Federal Government isn’t just short changing women seeking legal help to flee domestic violence. It’s forcing them to choose between living with their abusers or on the streets.

Fifty-five per cent of homeless women are fleeing domestic violence.

It is one of the main causes of homelessness, and yet emergency shelters are full, and long-term affordable housing is extremely limited because of a lack of funds.

The National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (NPAH), under which specialist domestic violence housing services are funded, has had only short-term one and two-year funding extensions under the Abbott-Turnbull Governments.

Without long-term funding certainty, organisations funded under NPAH are forced to regularly go cap-in-hand to the Government begging for funds, disrupting the life-saving work they could otherwise be doing.

The Greens would increase NPAH funding to $320 million per year and guarantee it for 10 years.

All of the Federal Government’s funding for women's refuges comes from this program.

But even the $115 million currently provided falls well short.

Homelessness Australia, the national peak body for homelessness advocacy, estimates 2,800 women are turned away from full refuges each year.

An extra $33.8 million of Federal funding is needed just to provide the most basic frontline services for women and children escaping domestic violence.

But instead of increasing funding to make sure women and children aren’t turned away and forced back to an unsafe environment, risking their lives, the Federal Government may cut billions of funding in the Federal Budget.

Since February, Treasurer Scott Morrison has been dropping hints his government will axe the $1.5 billion National Housing Affordability Agreement in the coming May Budget.

But they can find $1 billion dollars of public funds for Adani’s mega-coal mine or $255 million for new headquarters for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

Money, meet mouth

If Malcolm Turnbull and his Government truly value women and girls as equals, like they say they do, it should be reflected in where they spend taxpayer funds.

They’re choosing to chronically underfund and deny long-term funding certainty for the services that are working to save lives.

Instead, they wear ribbons, give speeches, and raise awareness.

The safety net they’re telling women to turn to is full of holes, and they know it.

It’s a careless cynical and callous thing to do.

The women of Australia deserve more than cheap and easy words.

If the Federal Government truly values women and girls as equals, it needs to stand up, speak out, and cough up.