Family violence: the Turnbull government needs to get better at delivery

To respond to family violence, the Turnbull government needs to get better at delivery. Announcements are not enough. The government's actions, in relation to family violence, are not living up to the Prime Minister's words.

The government first announced its cuts to legal assistance almost three years ago. From 1 July 2017, Community Legal Centres are facing a 30% funding cliff - cuts of almost $35 million.

It has been more than two years since the Coalition government’s decision to cut $88 million from the National Partnership agreement on Homelessness – the agreement’s capital expenditure component. That money hasn’t been restored. Nor have providers been informed as to whether funding will continue beyond the end of this financial year. Domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness: more than a third of those seeking homelessness support came as a result of family and domestic violence.

It has been more than two years since the Productivity Commission recommended the government to reform family law processes so that perpetrators of family violence could not personally cross-examine their victims, twelve months since Women’s Legal Services Australia’s open letter to Michaelia Cash and George Brandis calling on them to do it, and more than six months since the government finally agreed to consider it. But despite strong advocacy from Rosie Batty and others, and despite Labor committing to introduce this important reform if elected, so far there has been no action from George Brandis and the Turnbull government.

It has been around eighteen months since this government’s planned cuts to Family Violence Prevention Legal Services – which serve indigenous victims – were reversed, but the government still has yet to provide an assurance of ongoing funding or to commit to reinstating the National FVPLS Program. The government has also yet to reverse $18 million in cuts to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are 34 times more likely to be hospitalised from family violence and 10 times more likely to die of violent assault than other women.

It has been thirteen months since the Turnbull government announced it would spend $12 million on trialling the use of innovative technology to keep women safe. From that money, only $180,000 – 1.5% – has spent, Minister Porter revealed in Parliament last week.

It has been thirteen months since the Turnbull government announced it would spend $5 million to expand 1800 RESPECT. But that money never reached the telephone counselling provider; instead it has been spent on diverting victims away from telephone counselling.

In the last nine months, Government MPs have twice called on the government to take action on technology facilitated abuse. It has been eight months since a Senate Inquiry called on the Commonwealth to criminalise so-called revenge porn, and more than six months since the COAG Advisory Panel on Reducing Violence Against Women and their Children did the same. Yet the Coalition government has failed to even commit to legislating to criminalise so-called revenge porn. Nor has it taken any action to criminalise covert surveillance by abusive partners, using technology - like the secret installation of spyware on a victim’s phone.

Six months passed between the Turnbull government’s commitment to spending $5 million on safe smart phones and related resources, and their actual delivery of half that amount - $2.5 million – to Women’s Services Network (WESNET) for that purpose.

Almost six months passed between the Turnbull government’s commitment to spending $15 million on establishing specialised domestic violence support units, and the first of those new units commencing to operate. George Brandis chose the recipients of that funding without prior consultation with them, so it’s little wonder those services weren’t immediately ready to deploy the funding.

It has been around five months since, during the election campaign, George Brandis announced an additional $30 million for legal services, and Michaelia Cash announced an additional $15 million for domestic violence frontline services. But as yet no-one knows how that additional funding is to be spent.

It has also been around five months since the Minister for Women claimed that paid domestic violence leave would mean fewer jobs for women. In that time, as Minister for Employment, she has also presided over public service bargaining in which the Turnbull government sought to strip domestic violence leave from public sector agreements. The government has also failed to provide bipartisan support for Labor’s call for domestic violence leave to be a universal workplace right.

It has been around three months since the annual progress report for the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children was due. That progress report has yet to be published.

Finally: it has been around three months since the Third Action Plan under the National Plan was due to be announced. That Third Action Plan is now to be released this week. It is to be hoped it is backed up with more action.

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