Federal budget has increased focus on women’s safety, but critical gaps

The Morrison Government has committed $1.1 billion over five years (including $348 million in 2021/21) to its women’s safety package, with investments in primary prevention, frontline services, respect at work, e-safety, financial support and improved data collection.

This is a record investment in women’s safety, but falls substantially short of the $3 billion over three years (or $1 billion per annum) called for by women’s safety organisations across the country to meet critical gaps in frontline domestic and family violence services and equip communities to address the underlying drivers of violence against women and children.

“There are some really positive measures for women’s safety in this year’s budget,” says Hayley Foster, chief executive officer of Women’s Safety NSW. “But it’s certainly not a comprehensive women’s safety package and leaves serious gaps for victim-survivors of domestic and sexual violence seeking safety and for communities who want to stop violence before it starts.”

Women’s Safety NSW notes in particular, the continuation of the $260 million over two years to support state and territory funded frontline domestic and sexual violence services dealing with record levels of demand post COVID, as well as the $164.8 million over three years for $5,000 packages of financial assistance and support to women affected by family and domestic violence, plus a substantial boost to legal and social supports for women experiencing family violence in family law proceedings.

“These investments will certainly increase the safety of many women and children in the context of domestic and sexual violence”, continues Ms Foster. “It’s pleasing to see an acknowledgement by the federal government that domestic and sexual violence service demand continues at unprecedented levels and that women often need financial assistance and legal support to escape a violent relationship.”

However, the state women’s safety peak notes with concern that grave service gaps remain for victim-survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

“The reality is, this budget does little to address the fact that an estimated 9 out of 10 women experiencing violence who want to be supported to stay home safely with the abuser excluded can’t access these critical services”, says Ms Foster. “Nor does it address the fact that 1 in 3 women and girls seeking accommodation to flee violence cannot be housed.”

There is also very little investment in primary prevention initiatives to address the root causes of violence against women and children with just $92.4 million being invested over four years.

“If we don’t get serious about primary prevention, we’re never going to achieve the generational change we need to see in this country for rates of violence against women to come down,” explains Ms Foster.

There are a number of initiatives which aim to support particular populations impacted by domestic, family and sexual violence, including $57.6 million to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to break the cycle of violence through culturally safe, community-driven, trauma informed solutions, $6.8 million to continue the delivery of critical services for culturally diverse communities, $10.3 million over two years to support women on temporary visas experiencing violence to access emergency relief, and $9.3 million over three years to develop resources to prevent and respond to violence against women and girls with disability.

“These are important initiatives that go some way to recognising the particular barriers faced by priority population groups subjected to domestic and sexual violence, and the need for culturally-safe and community-led solutions in our diverse communities,” says Ms Foster.

Moreover, number of the reforms appear to respond to the Australian Law Reform Commissions Review of the Family Law System in 2019 and the Joint Select Committee Inquiry into Australia’s Family Law System, including $60.8 million over four years to support the new family law case management model in the federal family courts, $29 million over four years to improve information sharing between family law, family violence, and child protection systems, and $85 million over three years to increase the number (24 to 50) and geographic coverage of Family Advocacy and Support Services (FASS) providing social and legal supports to families impacted by family violence in the family law system.

“These reforms are essential for ensuring safety first in family law”, says Ms Foster.

The package also includes important investments in improved data collection, such as $31.6 million in funding over five years for a new dedicated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australian Bureau of Statistics Personal Safety Survey to provide insights into the prevalence and experience of violence among Indigenous Australians, and $18.9 million over four years for the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare to develop a national domestic, family and sexual violence data set to bring together fragmented data from states and territories.

“It’s high time we developed a quality data set of domestic, family and sexual violence,” says Ms Foster. “If we cannot measure our progress, we cannot hold governments to account for their performance.”

Overall, Women’s Safety NSW regard the budget as being a step in the right direction on our path towards a safer future for women and children impacted by domestic, family and sexual violence, but note the lack of investment in primary prevention will stall our progress in achieving sizable reductions in violence against women and children, and the unmet service gaps will continue to leave women and children at higher risk.

“We’ve been really clear that ensuring universal services to victim-survivors of domestic and sexual violence, and that communities are resourced to address the root causes of violence against women and children will require an investment of at least $1 billion per year”, says Ms Foster. “This remains the case, and we will continue to work with the government to ensure this investment is made as soon as possible so that every Australian has access to a safe future, free from violence.”

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