Additional comments by Labor Senators
Labor Senators believe it is important to achieve an agreed report on
this issue of national importance and have undertaken consultation with the government
members of the committee to achieve this. Multi-party support for the National
Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children which was commenced by
Labor in office (2010-2022) is critical to ensuring continuation of national
action focused on prevention, research, awareness and essential services by all
governments. There are, however, a number of areas where Labor Senators wish to
make further comment as outlined below.
Lack of funding for domestic violence services in the 2015-16 Budget
Labor Senators are disappointed that the 2015-16 Budget did not do more
to address the impact of domestic violence or reverse cuts to essential
community services made in the 2014-15 Budget. The Labor Women's Budget Reply
Statement, released on 14 May 2015 highlights the cuts to legal and frontline
services and their impact on support available to people experiencing domestic
violence, which will be discussed below.
Labor Senators welcome the 2015-16 Budget's contribution of $16.7
million towards a public awareness campaign to reduce violence against women
and their children, which will be delivered in conjunction with the states and
territories, noting the critical role of prevention strategies in addressing
Labor Senators are concerned that the 2015-16 Budget does not do more to
support the domestic violence sector, particularly as any public awareness
campaign is likely to result in increased rates of reporting, and therefore an
increased demand on services.
The issue of violence against women and their children is a national
emergency and public attention on the issue has increased recently. It is
essential that support services are adequately funded and government agencies
monitor demand for services to understand where services are required,
especially as increased public awareness could create a greater demand for
Labor is committed to hold a national crisis summit on family violence
if elected, within the first 100 days of office. A national crisis summit is required
for the Commonwealth, state and territory governments to agree to urgently
implement coordinated judicial and social services reform within their areas of
responsibility to better deal with family violence and provide a forum for
stakeholders to open and transparently lay down the key policy challenges for
addressing family violence including demand, innovation and coordination of
services. A package of $70 million in interim funding for services and research
has also been committed. (http://www.alp.org.au/nationalcrisissummit)`
Funding cuts to legal aid
The current government has inflicted severe cuts on all categories of
Commonwealth-funded legal assistance services since taking office in 2013,
including Legal Aid, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services,
community legal centres and Family Violence Prevention Legal Services.
Ms Rosie Batty expressed her concern about the funding cuts for such
I do advocate a lot for the community legal centres and
women's legal services, because when you are in a position where you have no
choice really—either taking out an intervention order or going through court
proceedings, and you are already financially compromised to such a point—if we
are making access to justice so hard for people, we are penalising them again.
I do not understand, because the value of the work that they do is enormous.
How do we work effectively in this area, being vulnerable to government
funding? Another government comes in and undoes everything else and changes
things around. I think that that is a very confusing element about government.
What we do needs to be bipartisan and needs to have long-term planning and
investment, otherwise we are constantly compromised. I suppose that is why a
lot of people have become cynical about governments, because we have lost trust
in things being able to change.
So I do find it concerning. I have said before that it is
really easy to stay detached and make decisions from a spreadsheet, and cut
back without actually going to face those people, and without learning from
them and seeing what they do, having direct conversations with them, with the
victims, with the clients. I think it is really important to go and see the
work on a day-to-day basis and see what happens, and why they are so needed.
The Productivity Commission has noted that cuts to vital legal
assistance services are a false economy. In its recent report on access to
justice arrangements, the Commission found that 'underfunding of legal
assistance services can lead to increased costs in other areas of government
spending'. The report quoted former Chief Justice Gleeson:
The expense which governments incur in funding legal aid is
obvious and measurable. What is not so obvious, and not so easily measurable,
but what is real and substantial, is the cost of the delay, disruption and
inefficiency, which results from absence or denial of legal representation.
Much of that cost is also borne, directly or indirectly, by governments.
Providing legal aid is costly. So is not providing legal aid. (Gleeson 1999, cited
in Law Council of Australia, sub. 96, p. 114)
In response to overwhelming public anger at Abbott Government cuts to
legal assistance services, on 26 March 2015 the Attorney-General announced that
some of those cuts would not proceed.
However, even with the belated reversal of some previous cuts, the government
has still cut more than $20 million from legal assistance services in less than
two years in office.
Alarmingly, the 2015 Budget papers indicate that further cuts will be
visited on these services from 2017-18, just after the next federal election.
Labor senators recommend that the Commonwealth Government respond to the
recommendations of the Productivity Commission Report into Access to Justice Arrangements,
and explain how it will support legal assistance services, including those
relating to domestic violence, beyond 2017-18.
The committee heard that finding safe and affordable housing is central
to victims of domestic violence leaving dangerous situations and getting their
lives back on track over the long-term. Moreover, the committee also received
evidence that domestic violence is one of the major causes of homelessness
Labor Senators are very concerned that funding uncertainty and Federal Government
budget cuts to the housing and homelessness sector will worsen outcomes for
victims of domestic violence. In particular, Labor Senators are concerned about
uncertainty of funding to National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness
(NPAH), as well as the reduction of its capital works program, the cutting of
the National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS), and funding cuts to
homelessness advocacy bodies made in December 2014.
National Partnership Agreement on
In the 2014-15 Budget the government announced it would fund the National
Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (NPAH) until the end of June 2015.
The Second Action Plan recognises the contribution NPAH makes to
Under the 2013-14 National Partnership Agreement on
Homelessness (NPAH), around 180 homelessness initiatives receive funding to
assist both those who are homeless and those at risk of homelessness across
Australia. Of these 180 homelessness initiatives, 39 contribute to support
services for women and children experiencing domestic and family violence.
The 2014-15 NPAH will give the Government time to look at
what improvements can be made to more effectively respond to the causes of
homelessness and achieve lasting reductions in the number of homeless
Evidence to the committee referred to initiatives funded under the NPAH
such as the 'Safe at Home' program
which supports women and children to remain in their own homes.
Labor has announced if elected it will commit an additional $15 million
for a Safe at Home grants program to be provided to community organisations,
local government or other appropriate providers that help people affected by
family violence stay safe in their own homes and in their communities. This
could include infrastructure such as:
key changes and lock upgrades to doors and windows;
sensor and security lighting;
security screen doors;
external CCTV cameras, training and monitoring;
In addition, we will map and understand best practice of existing
state safe and home strategies, including risk assessments, for
implementation across Australia (www.alp.org.au/familyviolence).
Moreover, the extension to NPAH announced in the 2014-15 Commonwealth
Budget reduced its funding by $44 million, which the government stated will
be taken from its capital works program rather than from frontline services.
Labor senators are also aware some stakeholders have called for this funding to
be reinstated so NPAH can support the building of more shelters for homeless
While the recent announcement by the government to extend the NPAH for
two years to 2017 is welcome, longer term funding is now subject to
consideration in the context of the government's White Paper on Reform of the
Again, the capital component of $44 million per year has not been funded. Any
continuing uncertainty around long term funding will cause anxiety and prevent
longer term planning in the sector.
Since rates of homelessness among women are inextricably linked with
domestic violence, Labor Senators would like to reiterate the recommendation
made in its interim report of 19 March 2014 that called for NPAH to
be funded at least over the forward estimates, as well as for the restoration
of funding cuts to NPAH's capital works program.
Labor Senators recommend the government provide greater certainty
to organisations funded under the National Partnership Agreement on
Homelessness (NPAH), and also restore the $44 million per year funding cut
to the NPAH capital works program.
Labor senators note analysis that an additional $33.8 million per year is
required from the Commonwealth Government to ensure victims of domestic
violence are not turned away from crisis accommodation services. Despite
providing $230 million to extend the NPAH for two years, with funding priority
given to frontline services that deal with women and children escaping domestic
violence, it has been pointed out that as this amount was not indexed it
represents an effective cut of $2.3 million in 2015-16.
National Rental Affordability
In the interim report the committee noted that in the 2014-15 Budget the
government announced that it is not proceeding with the next round of the
National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS) which was identified in the
National Plan as one way in which the Commonwealth could be working with the
states and territories to increase the supply of affordable housing.
Affordable housing is an important issue in the area of long term
support to victims of domestic violence.
While not designed specifically to provide emergency or long-term
accommodation for victims of domestic violence, the flow-on effects of this
decision will result in 15,000 fewer affordable homes being built, and so put
additional pressure on community and crisis housing sectors, including homelessness
services. This increased pressure will lessen accommodation options over the
long-term for victims of domestic violence and their families.
As NRAS was identified in the National Plan as a way to increase the
supply of affordable housing Labor senators believe this commitment should be
fulfilled. The regulatory changes made in 2014 have resulted in greater
transparency in the operation of the scheme.
Labor senators recognise that NRAS has, as at 30 April 2015, created 26,469
new affordable homes and recommend that the Commonwealth Government develop a
strategic, Commonwealth-led policy agenda focused on delivering more affordable
housing which considers a continued role for an NRAS or similar scheme.
Other housing and homelessness issues
Labor senators are also concerned about other cuts made by the government
to the housing and homelessness sector. Most importantly, the December 2014
announcement cutting $21 million from the Housing
and Homelessness Grants program administered by the Department of Social
Services, will reduce funding for three national peak bodies for homeless
Australians and housing policy from 30 June 2015.
These peak bodies, National Shelter, Homelessness Australia and the
Community Housing Federation Australia, are key advocates for Australians
experiencing homelessness, including many victims of domestic violence. These
funding cuts will mean that the ability of these bodies to advocate on behalf
of those experiencing homelessness will be diminished. This is particularly concerning
given the government's commitment to considering longer-term arrangements for
the roles and responsibilities in the delivery of housing and homelessness
services in the context of the White Paper on the Reform of the Federation.
Labor Senators also note that a range of other key housing and
homelessness advisory bodies were abolished by the Abbott Government including
the Prime Minister’s Council on Homelessness and the highly regarded National
Housing Supply Council.
Labor Senators also note the Commonwealth's role on the COAG Select
Council on Housing and Homelessness and the community housing sector’s National
Regulatory Council have also been removed by the Abbott Government.
Labor Senators also note the Shadow Treasurer and Shadow Minister for
Housing and Homelessness are currently consulting with a wide range of industry
and sector stakeholders in developing a Housing Affordability Strategy. (http://www.alp.org.au/housing_affordability)
Labor Senators recommend that funding is restored to ensure key homelessness
advocacy and advice to governments can continue so the voice of people
experiencing and at-risk of homelessness and the services that assist them can
DSS Grants process
As indicated in the interim report Labor senators reiterate their
concern about the transition to a new DSS grants process due to commence 1 July
2015 which is affecting some family violence services. In addition to budget
cuts of $240 million over four years,
many organisations have faced great upheaval and uncertainty as they continue
to wait to hear the result of outcomes and the terms
of any funding agreements.
Labor Senators recommend that the Commonwealth Government continues to
work with the community and family violence support services to determine the
most responsive funding model to ensure the safety and trust of people
struggling in the system.
Senator Katy Gallagher
Senator Claire Moore
Senator Nova Peris
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