5 March 2015
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the founding of Beryl Women's Refuge in Canberra. It was founded in 1975 as only the second women's refuge to be opened in Australia; a safe place women could go to when they experienced domestic violence. Family violence is still too prevalent in Australia. The Australian Bureau of Statistics Personal Safety Survey 2012 found that, after the age of 15, 34 per cent of women had experienced physical violence and 19 per cent of women had experienced sexual violence. The one bright light in those chilling statistics is that the survey also asked about violence in the previous 12 months and on both measures—physical and sexual violence—the share of women who had suffered declined from 1996 to 2012. But one woman feeling unsafe in her own home is one woman too many.
As the member for Jagajaga, Jenny Macklin, said in launching a book to acknowledge Beryl Women's Refuge:
Violence is the way that so many women have their dreams—and sometimes their lives—destroyed … violence against women takes away their capacity to control their own lives.
Ms Macklin noted the importance of making sure that refuges like Beryl Women stay open:
It does cost money to make sure refuges are there every night that women and children need them, that legal support is there for people, and that family support services are there for people.
We need to do everything we can to say to girls who are growing up today that they can expect to take their place wherever they dream they can.
But we also want to make sure that, when they grow up, as women they are treated equally at work and at home.
Here in my electorate of Fraser—as is the case all across Australia—vulnerable women are being turned away from legal services due to federal funding cuts. The Women's Legal Centre—solicitors who support women across the ACT and surrounds—is facing a loss of $100,000 in federal funding in two years. They estimate that the cut will mean that 500 women will not be supported by the centre over the next two years. Two-thirds of those 500 women are likely to be the victims of family violence. Two-thirds have no income or earn less than $35,000. The cuts will begin to bite soon, in July, and they will leave a growing number of the ACT's most vulnerable women stranded—women who cannot afford a private lawyer at a time when they are most in need. As Women's Legal Centre ACT Executive Director Heidi Yates says:
We are the first port of call for vulnerable women experiencing domestic and sexual violence across all socio-economic backgrounds in different areas of Canberra
Beryl Women's Refuge, after 40 years, now has no vacancy. These services are much in demand in the ACT.
As Heidi Yates has pointed out to me in the past, these legal centres are an efficient and effective investment in protecting vulnerable women and families. The federal grants that they receive are used not only to assist their clients directly, but are also used to supervise pro bono work from local law forms. The ACT Women's Legal Centre has estimated that the loss in funding from the federal government also reduces the amount of in-kind support they are able to manage. As Heidi Yates points out:
Cuts to funding results in cuts to frontline services, and this impacts on our ability to provide essential support to some of our community's most vulnerable, putting women and children at risk
I call upon those opposite, who I know care as much about family violence as those on this side of the House do, to rethink these cuts and the impact that they will have on Canberra communities.
This week Labor announced a package of measures to tackle family violence. I acknowledge the work of the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten; the member for Jagajaga, Jenny Macklin; and the member for Gellibrand, Tim Watts. The package of measures commits to extra resources to front-line legal services, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services. There is a commitment to make an extra investment in safe-at-home grants to ensure that people effected by family violence can stay safe in their home. Labor would invest in perpetrator mapping to look at the interactions across family violence and law enforcement and Labor plans a national crisis summit on family violence in consultation with academics and experts like Australian of the Year Rosie Batty.