TONY ABBOTT: If we’re honest, most of us would accept that a bad boss is a little bit like a bad father or a bad husband. Not withstanding all his or her faults, you find that he tends to do more good than harm.
While Tony Abbott spends billions on his war on terror, he has slashed funding to the real terror that so many Australian households face on a daily basis.
In Victoria alone, police were called out to 65,393 domestic violence incidents in 2013–14 – twice as many as in 2009–10. Of those, almost 30,000 were serious enough for police to press charges. Last year, 66,326 domestic violence incidents were reported in Queensland – a 13% increase since 2012.
Despite this growing epidemic of domestic violence, this government wants to make it more expensive to leave an abusive partner.
Yesterday, it was reported in the SMH that the Abbott government will try to raise divorce fees for the third time in an attempt to help restore the Family Courts’ finances.
With their usual negotiating finesse, the government has previously threatened to cut frontline services, close registries and not to replace retiring judges if higher fees were not maintained, saying they were necessary to keep the Family and Federal Circuit Courts financially sustainable.
They now need to convince six crossbench Senators to change their minds to get the fees passed in the next sitting period in September. With their recent success in stopping wind turbines, I wonder what the crossbench may have promised in return.
It is becoming increasingly apparent that this government is only paying lip service to addressing domestic violence.
In the last federal budget, the only new funding was $16.7 million over three years for a National Awareness Campaign to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children.
Community pressure forced a temporary reprieve from the previous budget cuts with funding to the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness and to community and Indigenous legal services extended for two years. Their future beyond 2017 remains uncertain.
Many of these legal services are already stretched to their limits. A&TSI incarceration rates continue to be a national shame and with the government maintaining their restrictions on legal advocacy, the capacity for legal services to work with communities to decrease legal problems is diminished.
In 2014, 1800RESPECT – the national 24/7 crisis line for sexual assault, domestic and family violence – responded to 54,853 contacts but left 18,631 unanswered. This means that one-quarter of contacts made to that service were not responded to when someone called for help. If the awareness campaign increases the volume of calls, who will answer them?
Thousands of NSW school children will lose access to a vital domestic violence education program and support service after the federal government axed its funding. The award-winning REALskills program, which has run successfully for 12 years teaching more than 7000 high school students about healthy relationships and domestic abuse, was axed by Scott Morrison.
Colleen Dowd, manager of community projects at the Family Centre at Tweed Heads, said it was difficult to understand the logic behind the decision to axe the REALskills, when no other service had received a grant locally, to replace it.
“The thrust of our program centres around arming young people with relationship-related skills as well as building up their resilience, ability and knowledge to connect with support services when they need them,” she said.
She said the service also featured early intervention work with students, identified by the schools, as needing support. “Through face to face interaction with service providers in schools, the youngsters are realising it’s not so bad to reach out and talk…whether that be about family violence, their own mental health problems or issues of engagement at school. But it is all about to go.”
Morrison also cut $2.4 million from specialised family violence programs that work with men to end their violent behaviour towards family members.
Last year, the government unveiled its Indigenous Advancement Strategy to streamline Indigenous funding into five categories: jobs and economy, children and schooling, safety and wellbeing, culture and capability and remote Australia strategies.
Of the successful applications in the last round of funding of the Government’s Indigenous Advancement Strategy, over half were granted to large non-Indigenous organisations before the funding round had actually opened.
Funding applications for programmes such as the Thumbs Up program, run by the Jimmy Little Foundation and geared around nutrition for young Aboriginal people, and the Djarindjin Safe House, a women’s shelter servicing 50 communities in Northern WA, were rejected despite the vital work they do.
The safe house was built at the Djarindjin community, 200 kilometres north of Broome, in 2014. The project was driven by local women, who had themselves been the victims of domestic violence and wanted to find a way to protect the younger generations.
The Federal Government contributed $500,000 towards setting it up and provided $180,000 for running costs.
Manager Dawn Thompson said lives would be put at risk by the funding cut.
“To be honest, we were shocked, because this is an essential service,” she said. “Since we opened, we’ve provided a safe place for 60 women and children, so it’s something that’s badly needed.”
Djarindjin Community Council chairman Brian Lee is furious.
He said the safe house project aligns perfectly with the Federal Government’s stated aims of promoting community safety and local employment, and they have been given no explanation of why their funding application was unsuccessful.
“We’re in the situation of telling four or five women that after a month, they don’t have a job,” Mr Lee said.
“And if it’s not funded, we have to tell the women who come here to be safe that we can’t help them anymore, that we cannot keep them safe, all because there is no funding to the safe house running.
These are just a few examples of successful programs that have had their funding cut.
There has also been alleged coercion in making some funding applications for Aboriginal Health Organisations contingent on that organisation being able to show support for the Government campaign to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Constitution.
It is a very worrying trend that this government silences advocacy, makes funding dependent on compliance, and takes no advice about where funds would be best invested. There is no recognition of prevention measures or the necessity to change the culture starting with our kids. It appears they are not interested in the continuation of programs geared around self-determination.
Instead of more bombs for Syria, how about some funding for the frontline services dealing with the war at home.