Domestic violence

Budget Review 2015–16 Index

Dr Matthew Thomas and Anna Dunkley

In March 2015, the Prime Minister described domestic violence as a ‘tragic and deadly epidemic’, and announced the establishment of a new Advisory Panel on violence against women.[1] This followed a commitment by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) at its latest meeting to take urgent collective action to address violence against women, the Victorian Government’s establishment of a Royal Commission into Family Violence, and a period of sustained media attention to the issue of domestic violence.[2]

Despite the recent public focus on domestic violence and calls for increased Government funding to support victims of domestic violence and violence prevention efforts, the Budget delivers a relatively minor amount of funding for a new national awareness campaign and does not increase funding for other national domestic violence initiatives. The Budget provides funding for community services grants, legal assistance and homelessness services, but this funding is short-term, continuing a cycle of funding uncertainty for these service providers.[3]  

National Initiatives

The Australian Government’s strategy to tackle domestic violence in cooperation with state and territory governments is outlined in the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children (the National Plan).[4] Funding for the National Plan is provided under the National Initiatives program component of the Social Services portfolio, which was allocated a total of $119.5 million over four years.[5] This is only slightly more than the $117.9 million that was allocated last year for the period 2014–15 to 2017–18.[6]

Similarly, the Budget does not provide any substantial new funding for the Office for Women. This Office, which is based within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C), has responsibility for women’s policies and programs on gender equality, women’s economic empowerment and opportunity, safety and leadership. It has been allocated $3.6 million for 2015–16, only slightly more than the $3.5million it was allocated in 2014–15 and less than the actual spend for 2014–15 of $3.8 million.[7]

New funding was announced in March 2015 for the National Awareness Campaign to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children. This new campaign is to receive total funding of $30.0 million over three years.[8] The states and territories will contribute $15.0 million towards this total, and the Australian Government has allocated the remaining $15.0 million, as well as a further $1.7 million for administration costs.[9] It is envisaged that the campaign will ‘drive nation-wide change in the culture, attitudes and behaviours that underpin violence against women and their children’.[10]

Community grants

As a part of the 2014–15 Budget, the Government introduced reforms to discretionary grants programs administered by the Department of Social Services. The reforms resulted in funding for community grants being reduced by $240.0 million over four years.[11]

Following the Budget, community service providers were asked to change their service offers in line with new criteria, and to submit bids for a share of the reduced funding that was available. A number of specialist family violence service organisations were advised that their bids had been unsuccessful. In January 2015, 27 of these organisations were offered four-month agreement extensions.[12] Perhaps unsurprisingly, some stakeholders have argued that the changed funding arrangements have negatively affected service provision.[13]

The Budget allocates $55.6 million over three years from 2014–15 to broadly ‘ensure continuity of front line community services as funding arrangements transition to the New Way of Working for Grants framework’.[14] While a proportion of this funding will go towards services that provide general support for women and children experiencing domestic violence, it is not clear just how much will be targeted towards specialist family violence programs.[15] That said, in April 2015, Minister for Social Services, Scott Morrison, announced the allocation of $15.7 million over two years towards the delivery of 27 specialist family violence services and eight family early intervention alcohol and drug services.[16]

Legal Assistance

Legal assistance services play an important role in addressing domestic violence.[17]

The Australian Government’s 2013–14 Mid-year Economic and Fiscal Outlook included $43.1 million in savings over four years, achieved by removing funding for policy reform and advocacy for four legal assistance programs.[18] This decision was to have affected community legal centres, legal aid and Indigenous legal services.

In March 2015, Attorney-General George Brandis announced that the Government would restore $25.5 million in legal support funding over two years.[19] Accordingly, the Budget includes $12.0 million in funding for community legal centres and $11.5 million for the Indigenous Legal Assistance Programme.[20] This budget measure will be offset by unspecified savings from the Indigenous area of PM&C and the Attorney-General’s Portfolio.[21]

Homelessness

Domestic violence is a leading cause of women and children using homelessness services and women’s shelters.[22] Funding for these services is provided through the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (NPAH) under the National Affordable Housing Agreement.[23]

In March 2015, Scott Morrison announced the provision of $230.0 million to extend the NPAH until 30 June 2017.[24] This decision is reflected in the Budget, which indicates that funding will be targeted towards frontline services, focusing on women and children experiencing domestic and family violence and homeless youth.[25] 

The 2014–15 Budget provided $115.0 million to extend the NPAH for 2014–15.[26] At the time, providers of homelessness services were concerned that there would be a crisis in service delivery should ongoing funding beyond June 2014 not be forthcoming. The one-year extension of funding followed a similar single year commitment of $159.0 million by the Gillard Government for the previous year.[27] The 2014–15 Budget also discontinued funding rounds for homelessness research and peak bodies, a decision announced on 22 December 2014.[28]

Comment

Some commentators have criticised the Budget’s limited response to the issue of domestic violence. For example, Renee Carr, Executive Director of Fair Agenda, has argued that the Budget does not demonstrate a long-term commitment to tackling what the Government has itself described as a national epidemic.[29]

It should be noted that following the Budget’s release, Scott Morrison and Michaelia Cash, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women, announced that the Government would be providing an additional $4.0 million towards the 1800RESPECT hotline—a service that supports women who have experienced, or are at risk of, sexual assault or domestic violence.[30] Morrison and Cash also suggested that the Government would have ‘more to say’ on domestic violence ‘in the near future’.[31] The states and territories have a key role to play in tackling domestic violence and COAG will be drawing on the advice and recommendations of the Advisory Panel in developing means to address violence against women.

The key issue would appear to be the need for sufficient on-going funding for services to support women and children experiencing domestic violence. As Carr observes, an awareness campaign is ‘pointless’ without services to support women experiencing and leaving situations of domestic violence.



[1].          T Abbott (Prime Minister) and M Cash (Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women), National awareness campaign to reduce violence against women and children, media release, 4 March 2015. The membership of the advisory panel was announced on 14 May 2015. See T Abbott (Prime Minister) and M Cash (Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women), Advisory panel announced to reduce violence against women, media release, 14 May 2015. For information about domestic violence in Australia, see: J Phillips and P Vandenbroek, Domestic, family and sexual violence in Australia: an overview of the issues, Research paper series 2013–14, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 14 October 2014.

[2].          Council of Australian Government (COAG)s, Communique, COAG Meeting, Canberra, 17 April 2015;  Royal Commission into Family Violence (Victoria) website.

[3].          In the interim report of its inquiry into domestic violence in Australia, the Senate Finance and Public Administration References Committee observed that funding uncertainty as a result of changed Department of Social Services grant arrangements has had a negative impact on the community services sector, reducing some organisations’ capacity to plan effectively and retain experienced staff. Senate Finance and Public Administration References Committee, Domestic Violence in Australia: interim report, The Senate, Canberra, March 2015, pp. 8–9.  

[4].          COAG, National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children, p. 2.

[5].          Australian Government, Portfolio budgets statements 2015–16: budget related paper no. 1.15A: Social Services Portfolio, p. 92.

[6].          Australian Government, Portfolio budget statements 2014–15: budget related paper no. 1.15A: Social Services Portfolio, p. 98.

[7].          Portfolio budget statements 2015–16: budget related paper no. 1.14: Prime Minister and Cabinet, op. cit., p. 30; Portfolio budget statements 2014–15: budget related paper no. 1.14: Prime Minister and Cabinet, op. cit., p. 31.

[8].          T Abbott and M Cash, op. cit.

[9].          Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2015–16, p. 163.

[10].       Ibid.

[11].       Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2014–15, p. 197. The Senate Community Affairs References Committee is currently holding an inquiry into the Impact on Service Quality, Efficiency and Sustainability of Recent Commonwealth Community Service Tendering Processes by the Department of Social Services, which is due to report on 19 August 2015.

[12].       Senate Community Affairs Committee, Answers to Questions on Notice, Social Services Portfolio, Additional Estimates 2014–15, 25–27 February 2015, Question SQ15—000003.

[13].       J Hill, ‘Home truths: the cost and causes of domestic violence’, Monthly, March 2015, pp. 18–25.

[14].       Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2015–16, op. cit., p. 166.

[15].       Portfolio budgets statements 2015–16: budget related paper no. 1.15A: Social Services Portfolio, op. cit., p. 33.

[16].       S Morrison (Minister for Social Services), Coalition Government boosts funding support for vulnerable children and their families, media release, 17 April 2015.

[17].       COAG, National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children, op. cit., p. 26.

[18].      Australian Government, Mid-year economic and fiscal outlook 2013–14, December 2013, p. 119.

[19].       G Brandis (Attorney-General) and M Cash (Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women), Legal aid funding assured to support the most vulnerable in our community, media release, 26 March 2015.

[20].       Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2015–16, op. cit., pp. 60-1. Indigenous women and children are more likely to experience violence than any other section of Australian society: Productivity Commission (PC), Overcoming Indigenous disadvantage key indicators 2011, PC, Canberra, 2011, p. 4.120.

[21].       Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2015–16, op. cit.

[22].       Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), Specialist homelessness services 2012–2013, AIHW, Canberra, 2013, p. vii.

[23].       Department of Social Services (DSS), ‘Housing support’, DSS website.

[24].       S Morrison (Minister for Social Services), Coalition reverses Labor’s funding cuts on homelessness with $230 million commitment prioritising victims of domestic violence, media release, 23 March 2015.

[25].       Budget Measures: budget paper no. 2: 2015–16, op. cit., p. 165.

[26].       Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2014–15, op. cit. p. 205.

[27].       M Butler (Minister for Housing and Homelessness), $159 million for national homelessness agreement, media release, 18 March 2013.

[28].       Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2014–15, op. cit., p. 205; DSS, ‘Grants: housing and homelessness research’, DSS website, 22 December 2014.

[29].       R Olding, ‘Budget 2015: Government failed domestic violence test’, The Sydney Morning Herald, (online edition), 13 May 2015.

[30].       S Morrison (Minister for Social Services) and M Cash (Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women), Abbott Government delivers funding boost for 1800RESPECT, media release, 17 May 2015.

[31].       Ibid.

 

All online articles accessed May 2015. 

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