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Domestic violence is real: Centrelink where are you?

By Tracie Aylmer

I used to be somewhat quiet over the domestic violence that I suffered, although I did advise Centrelink time and time again what happened. Every phone call I made to Centrelink I talked about my domestic violence. Each and every time.

The most frustrating thing is that none of the customer service staff (until a month ago) actually recorded it on my records. When I told a job provider, she finally asked me why my DV wasn’t recorded on my records, then quickly set about amending my records to show that I had gone through it. Somewhat relieved, I asked though why it wasn’t there in the first place, and she told me that people don’t go around talking about DV unless they have been through it.

Centrelink obviously hadn’t recorded it as no-one there wanted to believe that I had gone through it. Simple.

Today I decided to check the legislation to see what could be done about my situation. I was shocked at what I found . . .

Section 542F enables an abused person with children to be exempted from the typical ‘work for the dole’ duties for a period of 16 weeks, but only if the abused person has told Centrelink within 26 weeks that they have been suffering from domestic violence. While it is wonderful that an abused parent suffering domestic violence is given alleviation, the issue is that the abuse is ongoing and has no end date. As the perpetrator is tied to the victim because of the children, this makes their recovery even more complex and problematic. There is absolutely no way a victim could even possibly think to recover after 16 weeks.

Section 502C covers those without children to be exempted from participation, also 16 weeks. While it is similar in concept to section 542F, it has the same ignorance. How on earth can a victim be able to recover in such a short period of time?

Other sections give exemptions to aspects such as work for the dole for the maximum period – again – of 16 weeks. How can they assume that a victim goes through domestic violence for such a short period of time? How can they not understand what recovery means? How can they not realise that a victim lives for the rest of their life with domestic violence? Why isn’t this not only taken into consideration but also catered for?

There are some shocking stories of domestic violence in the real world. The physical aspects of domestic violence can be also serious, as compared to the mental, emotional and the financial trauma of what really happens. There were times when I had wished (at the time) that I was hit, so people could see what was going on. Everyone thought the perpetrators were ‘good guys’.

The stalking carried on for months afterwards – not 16 weeks. Sixteen weeks is nothing compared to what really goes on after a victim finally figures out how to leave the perpetrator.

This is the reason why domestic violence isn’t considered serious by this government. They give a time limit to the suffering a victim goes through. With domestic violence, there are no time limits.

My suggestion to everyone is that they write to the politicians the reasons why there should be no time limit in the Social Security Act 1991 (Cth) for domestic violence. I have already told Christian Porter (the Minister for Social Services) my story.

Please tell yours.

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  1. babyjewels10

    Assistance of any kind was not forthcoming for my friend, she stayed away for 6 weeks, with 3 kids, using up her savings, and Centrelink still hadn’t come through with a cent to help. Long story short, she’s back with her abuser. At least she has a roof over her head. But I don’t think anybody could get her to try it again because dealing with Centrelink destroyed her.

  2. diannaart

    Excellent work Tracie.

    As for the magical 16 weeks – having been through the Centrelink mill myself and being a former public servant, I can state with great authority that 16 weeks was pulled out of some high echelon public servant’s arse who need to justify his/her job, given a once over that it would not frighten the very wealthy who think any welfare is a scam and 16 weeks became policy.

    No studies were required, even if such relevant consideration was done. 16 weeks, sounds longer than it is – well, to some people, but it looks as though something is being done to help, not that anything IS actually helping.

  3. dragonnanny

    If our current government can state that asylum seekers fabricate sexual abuse as a means of getting into Australia, it would seem to me that Centrelink, under direction of our current government, might think that women/men fabricate domestic violence so as to avoid the looking for work requirements to get the dole money. Domestic violence ruined me as a potential worker, not from physical injuries but the lack of self confidence and all that goes with verbal, emotional and psychological abuse. Domestic violence wasn’t even an issue with Centrelink when I was looking for work after the marriage finally broke down. 16 weeks would probably be seen as generous by those powers that be. Good luck Tracie.

  4. Ttly_Ovrit

    Well said, Tracie.

    I completely agree that Centrelink guidelines fail utterly to comprehend the long term consequences of domestic violence. In my case, Centrelink could not see past the two Bachelors degrees to the PTSD, anxiety and depression, caused by years of stress and emotional abuse, which leaves me unable to function at full capacity. I can not manage my mental health while, at the same time, complying with onerous Centrelink obligations AND worrying about the consequences of failing to meet those requirements.

    It took 18 months of pushing, buck passing and being ignored, before an understanding job provider finally documented my story. To have someone finally write on my file: “JS is unable to use her qualifications. Has been mentally abused by ex-husband and is suffering the consequences of her husband’s past criminal history. This has impacted the JS capacity to seek employment.” I can’t tell you how that felt… I cried…

    On a similar note… On Thursday I accompanied a elderly woman to Perth Magistrates Court, to assist her in obtaining a Violence Restraining Order against a family member. It should NOT take an ENTIRE DAY to obtain a VRO!

  5. Judith W

    Domestic violence I experienced during my marriage, mostly emotional and psychological abuse, still affects my employment prospects 16 years on as I struggle from job to job, running away from abusive employers and supervisors. My career is in tatters and I am turning to Centrelink once again.

  6. Trish Corry

    Thank you for sharing your story Tracy. I will be looking into this further and I will write some letters and I will place this on my own Labor branch agenda for discussion. This is something really important that needs change. How can I contact you with any responses or updates?

  7. Matthew Oborne

    When Robin Williams died a few friends of mine said it was time to see the doctors, That was it seems Robins last gift. To see people open up about domestic violence I applaud you. I have selfish reasons, my daughter was young in this world and we Had a female Prime minister a great female cabinet and I was thinking this is the world my daughter will grow into and I was proud of all of us as a country for doing this for our children. Then it unravelled a lot of people react to what the political moos is in the country, we see it with Hanson, Abbott Turned cabinet into a boys club after he said everything he could possibly say wrong I dont need to go into what he said I am sure everyone knows, I saw the promising brighter world for my daughter vanishing before my eyes. Destroy the Joint started their project to find out how many women were being murdered every year and posted many articles that show the face of Australia that has been hidden, statistics on sexual harassment are shocking, on how many women go to the emergency department because a partner or former partner or someone who wants to be their partner violently attacks them, we have twice the world average for rape here, Women are told to change their behavior because living free to do what they please is dangerous, I had no idea just how bad things are here and it has to change.

  8. townsvilleblog

    Tracie, men who do this to women are cowards, if confronted by anther man they would back down almost every time. My wife left her previous husband who used to belt her, sometimes for very little reason. She lived in Mt Isa in North Qld, and I in Townsville. I urged her to pack her car with everything she held dear and while he was at work, run. It is a journey of roughly 900 klms but she mustered the courage and ran. DV can’t just be gotten over in 16 weeks, Jesus, after 24 years of marriage to me she still occasionally has nightmares about the treatment she received from her first husband. I will email this whole story to my local State and Federal MPs and hope that they can help this situation in some way. Hopefully a change of wording in the law.

  9. townsvilleblog

    diannaart/Trish Corry, Just wanted to say that I enjoy your posts very much.

  10. diannaart

    Thank you Townesville

    Even all these years after my marriage – I know I still wake screaming sometimes… well not so much me waking as my partner being woken by my screams.

    And I got out alive, I have my own home (sort of) and even though, I no longer can work, I can manage to survive. I’m one of the lucky.

    Which is why I remain grateful and why I will always speak out if I believe something is unjust.

    DV, depression, PTSD and other mental anguish cannot be shoved under a carpet of 16 weeks or a handful of psyche counselling sessions. Until a few years ago, I had (finally) found a psyche I could talk to. However, he has since retired. The problem is for anyone seeing a new counsellor – every time means going over the past, there is a point where this is not necessary for the patient, where repeating their history is just painful rather than fruitful. Consequently I no longer see any professionals, nor do I wish to burden my friends and family when going through a bad patch. So I just muddle through.

    Muddling through is what most of us do, given the increasing inadequacies of the welfare system – it sure isn’t a net. The only reason I haven’t fallen through has been more through luck than anything. Meanwhile, there are many more people less fortunate who ARE falling through the net. Be they born or residents of Australia or are deliberately stuck on an island prison.

    I do believe we will change from the narrow-minded nation we have become, just don’t know when that will be.

  11. Kyran

    “My suggestion to everyone is that they write to the politicians…….”
    As always, Ms Aylmer, there is the likelihood, the very strong likelihood, they will continue to ignore our pleas and go through their ceremonial dances for the benefit of the cameras. ‘White Ribbon Day’ is the 25th November.

    “White Ribbon is the world’s largest movement of men and boys working to end men’s violence against women and girls, promote gender equality, healthy relationships and a new vision of masculinity.
    A nation that respects women, in which every woman lives in safety, free from all forms of men’s abuse.”

    How many of the misogynists in ‘our government’ will wear the ‘White Ribbon’ for their ceremonial dance in front of the cameras, then go back to work, defiling the vision of the campaign they claim to espouse? The ’16 week provision’ can be regarded as no more than an obscenity. But it pales into insignificance when compared with a ‘government’ that defunds all of the other ‘support services’, then demands a grateful recognition of their magnanimous decision to re fund 1/3 of the cuts they just made.
    The last time I felt this ill about substance over perception wasn’t when Philip Ruddock put on an amnesty badge whilst demonising the people he was meant to be protecting. It was when talcum made him the ‘Special Envoy for Human Rights’.
    “The choice of Philip Ruddock to represent Australia internationally on human rights issues makes as much sense as appointing a cigarette company CEO to champion health,”

    When the politicians have absolutely no idea of a problem, other than through their own myopic, opportunistic lens, why would you write to them? Can there be any realistic expectation of a ‘reasonable’ outcome?
    Kay Schubach wrote a book, ‘Perfect Stranger’, and went on to become a voice for many of the disenfranchised victims/survivors. The likes of Rosie Batty and Gillian Triggs can not only identify the problem, but can provide solutions. The RC into Domestic Violence (Victoria) was tabled in the Victorian parliament in March.
    Just one more time, our politicians are exemplars of self interested incompetence, at best. Even if they could rise to the lofty heights of being exemplars of mediocrity, we might have a chance. A chance they may hear us on any day other than election day.
    Thank you, Ms Aylmer, and commenters. Look after yourselves. After all, our ‘government’ won’t. Take care

  12. Kyran

    By way of correction, the RC in Victoria was into Family Violence, not Domestic Violence. A subtle distinction, but worthy of note. It was commissioned with a budget of $36mil, but only cost $13.5mil. Its 227 recommendations are little more than underscoring the obvious. The problems are well known. By classifying family violence as the criteria, it addressed a far wider range of issues. Of the 227 recommendations, most required systemic change, with attendant costs. The Victorian government has already committed $80mil to address the problem, a figure acknowledged by the commission as, likely, inadequate.

    As always, with issues such as this, the victims/survivors show more character and compassion than those conducting the inquiry.

    “Families whose loved ones have been killed by family members told us of their experiences. The Commission
    was impressed and moved by the dignity, insight and conviction of these families. It is extraordinary that,
    having suffered such loss, they had the courage and the generosity to help us in our work—to explain their
    sense of what happened and why, to point to gaps and failings in systems’ responses, and to suggest possible
    ways of preventing further deaths. The Commission is grateful to these families for their heartfelt and
    considered contribution.”

    Dignity. Insight. Conviction. Courage. Generosity.

    Recommendations #187-189 pertain to prevention. It’s all about making sure that tomorrow is better than today. #227 is a wee little ripper;

    “The Victorian Government investigate options for increasing its capacity to invest in preventing
    and responding to family violence, including by:
    redirecting existing revenue sources towards family violence expenditure
    identifying new revenue sources
    exploring the possibility of entering into a partnership agreement with the Commonwealth
    Government in areas of overlapping responsibility.”

    There are matters of dignity, insight, conviction, courage and generosity. Then there is talcum. If I had money to gamble, I’d put it all on talcum wearing a white ribbon in November.

    Take care

  13. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Well done, Tracie, for being brave in getting out of that abusive situation (and other friends who have done so too) and for being brave to talk about it here while calling the Dept of Social Security out for not placing enough importance on the damaging affects of Domestic Violence.

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