Cuts to essential services in the federal budget may be forcing domestic violence victims onto the streets or into the arms of their abuser, Senator Larissa Waters says.
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The Greens Senator and spokeswoman for women is one of the politicians spearheading the Senate inquiry into domestic violence in Australia.
While the inquiry has received widespread support from both sides of politics, Senator Waters has criticised cuts to legal services and homelessness support outlined in the Abbott Government’s first federal budget.
She told SBS the combined effects of the cuts could force domestic violence victims to remain in dangerous households.
“The dollars are where the rubber hits the road and, really, the federal government needs to do more in terms of playing that leadership role,” she said.
“Importantly, it needs to stop making the situation worse with those budget decisions about homelessness and affordable housing problems, legal services and tax decisions that will disproportionally effect women.
“… Women won’t have the financial means to escape violence.”
"This is an epidemic in Australia. If it was any other situation...there would be a massive policy response.”
Senator Waters also criticised the government for failing to produce a women’s budget impact statement, which has been a yearly feature of the federal budget since 1984.
The previous Women’s Budget Highlights published alongside the 2013–14 Budget noted that the Labor Government had committed over $86.0 million since 2009 to a national plan to reduce violence against women.
The Plan of Action was issued by the National Council to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children, established by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in 2008.
‘Achieving gender equality is required to stop violence’
More recently, the Abbott Government has launched the Second Action Plan under the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children 2010-2022.
Launched in June, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women Senator Michaela Cash said the plan’s 26 practical actions would be funded by $100 million over the forward estimate.
“It is a long-term approach, which acknowledges that achieving gender equality is required to stop violence from happening in the first place,” she said,
“… Over the past 12 months I have met with countless stakeholders, community leaders, Government officials and victims of domestic violence who have expressed overwhelming support for the National Plan, which has enjoyed bi-partisan support since its creation in 2010.”
Senator Cash also emphasised the $6 million allocated to the Northern Territory’s Domestic and Family Violence Reduction Strategy and $1 million to the White Ribbon Foundation.
Citing Labor’s failure to provide future funding for services such as homelessness programs, Senator Cash said education as the key to curbing domestic violence.
“Ultimately men’s violence against women is fundamentally caused by gender inequality and it is only by challenging that reality that we can prevent violence from occurring,” she said.
“There has been a wave of momentum in the community which I believe will turn into a tsunami of support in reducing and ultimately eliminating domestic and family violence.
“Only through a greater understanding of the complex attitudes, values and individual circumstances that lie behind the violence, we can all work together to stop it.”
‘This is an epidemic in Australia’
Outside the Second Action Plan, the government has also thrown its support behind Parliamentarians Against Family Violence.
The organisation - launched on Monday by Liberal MP Ken Wyatt and cross party colleagues Tim Watts and Andrew Broad – aims to promote discussion on and action against violence within Australian families.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten also attended the launch, stating that such violence needs to become part of the public debate.
Increased debate is also the aim of the Senate inquiry, Senator Waters said, with more than 150 submissions received and five public hearings scheduled.
“This is what we need to shake people out of their comfort zones,” she said.
“This is a huge problem. This is an epidemic in Australia. If it was any other situation, if it was people dying in these great numbers on public transport for heaven’s sake, there would be a massive policy response.”