HON PIERRE YANG (South Metropolitan) [11.28 am] — without notice: I move —
That the Legislative Council notes the relationship between domestic and family violence and homelessness, and commends the state government for the 10-year strategy on homelessness and its goal to end homelessness in Western Australia.
[Speeches and comments from various members]
HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [12.02 pm]: I rise to indicate the Greens’ general support for this motion. It is always important that we talk about issues of homelessness and family violence as a priority; it should be a priority of all governments. I think that it is heartening to note that there has been a comprehensive approach to developing the 10-year homelessness strategy. I note that work on the strategy has been guided by the Supporting Communities Forum Working Group on Homelessness, and I am pleased that a co-designed approach to this strategy has been adopted. There are many intersections between this work and the extensive work that has already been undertaken by the WAAlliance to End Homelessness. The Department of Communities commissioned a report that was released earlier this year, titled “Homelessness in Western Australia: A Review of the Research and Statistical Evidence”, which will also inform the strategy.
There is a well-established link between homelessness and domestic violence, with domestic violence being one of the main drivers of homelessness and the most common reason people seek assistance from specialist homelessness services. We know that it is critical for women, in particular, to be able to access safe, accessible and affordable accommodation so they can leave violent relationships. This is a critical element to ensuring that women remain safe.
Although I welcome and acknowledge that the government is focused on addressing domestic violence and reducing homelessness, domestic violence remains an endemic problem that is currently, I would argue, at crisis levels in Western Australia. It is an issue that rarely seems to be out of the spotlight at the moment. This year has been a particularly appalling one. So far this year, 23 people have been killed in suspected family-related murders in Western Australia—that is more than two a month, compared with 11 for the whole of last year. That includes 10 women and nine children. WA has the second highest rate of reported physical and sexual violence perpetrated against women in Australia, second only to the Northern Territory. Frankly, those figures are horrifying. We welcome the work being done by the government on this matter. We welcome the appointment of a Minister for Prevention of Family and Domestic Violence. We will welcome the Residential Tenancies Legislation Amendment (Family Violence) Bill 2018 when it gets to this place and is debated, which is aimed at giving victims of family violence more choice about their housing. We also welcome the introduction of paid family and domestic violence leave and note that WA public servants took the equivalent of almost 150 days of that leave in the first six months of that entitlement being established last year. That is a very large figure and it is very concerning, but it is more evidence of the often hidden nature of domestic and family violence.
However, I also note continuing gaps in family and domestic violence services, particularly for women who live in regional and remote areas. I note that this is a particular problem when we remember that Aboriginal women are disproportionately affected by family and domestic violence. We also know there is still much to do for women who come from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, particularly those who do not have access to government benefits. They have been identified as a group that is particularly vulnerable. We continue to have ongoing deficits in the provision of legal advice and support for family and domestic violence victims. We also have a deficit of crisis accommodation for young women aged between 14 and 18 years who are victims of domestic violence. Again, I draw members’ attention in particular to the recommendations around the intersections between elder abuse and family and domestic violence, which were further worked on in the recent parliamentary inquiry. I note that a high proportion of women in our prisons are domestic violence survivors. There is a desperate need to assist those women, particularly with trauma assistance, to address what have been some pretty horrendous lives.
The intersection between homelessness and mental health and alcohol and other drug issues is also well established. It is essential that mental health issues are part of any discussion around homelessness. We know already that homelessness is a risk factor for mental health issues. Mental illness is also a risk factor for bringing about homelessness, so it is a double-edged sword. Research has demonstrated that between 48 per cent and 82 per cent of homeless young people have a diagnosable mental illness, and between one-quarter and one-half of adults who experience homelessness are estimated to have severe and perhaps chronic mental illness. We know that lack of employment opportunities, limited housing options, stigma and discrimination associated with having a mental illness contribute to the risk of homelessness, while also being consequences of homelessness. To address the problem, it is important that people with mental health issues have access to housing that is appropriate for their situation and that support services are able to meet individual needs. This has been further elaborated on in the 10- year mental health services plan. As noted in that plan, improving access to safe housing and associated community support also helps to prevent the specialised mental health treatment and short to medium-term accommodation system from being congested with people who want and are able to live independently in the community.
I note that, clearly, we have strategies in place in this state, some of which were developed under the previous government and those that are being developed now under this government. It is equally important to follow through with action. That means it is not enough to develop a plan; we have to make sure that we are funding the services right across the spectrum, whether it be for mental health, alcohol and other drugs, or providing the dollars for the family and domestic violence services. We know we have a lot of really good strategies in place but now the hard yards come with ensuring they are funded.
[Speeches and comments from various members]
Motion lapsed, pursuant to standing orders.