FAMILY AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE — FRONTLINE SERVICES

HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [5.30 pm]: I rise to make some comments about serious concerns I have about the reduction of frontline family and domestic violence services. The services I am referring to this evening are called family and domestic violence counselling, advocacy and support services, and they are currently delivered across WA by 17 different service providers. These are really vital services. They support people who attend police stations and provide crisis response and counselling across metropolitan, regional and remote Western Australia. The contracts I am talking about were originally signed in 2013, so we are talking over six years ago, but, unfortunately, at the time they were signed, no financial increase was factored in other than a very minimal indexation. I note that the government recognises how important these services are and that it is looking to extend those contracts for another three years through to 2023. Obviously that is good, but, unfortunately, the government is seeking to do that without any increase other than the minimal indexation that is currently incorporated into those contracts and has been since the beginning. In practice, that will force those community sector service providers to subsidise rising costs themselves, and in some cases their capacity to do that is just not there. It just cannot be done, and the only solution for them in practice is a reduction in those services.

The providers are still trying to determine what this will mean, and so far Relationships Australia has indicated that it believes it will be forced to close two of its four men’s behaviour change groups. These are groups I have spoken about many times in this place. They are excellent at dealing with the core reasons that men commit offences of family and domestic violence. Those services are a really important, critical part of dealing with the spectrum of addressing family and domestic violence, and it is terrible to think that they will potentially be halved. Other service cuts being actively considered include reducing the number of days that services are available to operate in our police stations, less counselling and support time with family and domestic violence victims, overall cuts to staff hours, moving from one-to-one support to group support and closing services at Christmas for up to four weeks. I remind members that Christmas is traditionally a time of increased risk to victims, so that is the last thing we should have to contemplate.

I anticipate that the minister will say that she is not cutting services and that she is continuing contracts. That, of course, is a good thing, but if the government keeps rolling over those contracts year after year with only a minimal increase for the consumer price index, given that service providers are already facing significant cost increases, as well as considerable increases in need, the government will, in effect, be cutting services. That will be the net result.

We know that many of these organisations are already squeezing every last bit they can squeeze out of the funding they are provided with. We also know that as a result of the COVID-19 crisis they are currently experiencing increased demand. The figures for the last couple of months have been really, really alarming. In May alone, eight women were allegedly killed by domestic violence in Australia. Usually about one woman a week is murdered as a result of domestic violence, which is horrendous enough, but we lost twice as many as that last month. Police statistics released in May also show domestic violence rates are at an all-time high. There were 2 082 reports of family-related assaults in March, which is a 17 per cent increase from last year. Since last year, there was also, reportedly, a 47 per cent increase in calls to the WA Women’s Domestic Violence Helpline in March and April. We are talking about 1 690 desperate calls to the centre. In addition to the increased demand I have just outlined, the wage costs for the sector have also increased significantly with the mandated increases following the equal remuneration order. Of course, the ERO increase is very welcome and it needed to occur. However, it needs to be funded with increased funding rather than services being reduced.

I know the government is fully aware of the increased costs faced by these organisations and I note that state- funded family and domestic violence programs received just over a nine per cent increase in March, but it was for all programs except family and domestic violence counselling, advocacy and support services. Those services were not eligible because the contracts were signed in December 2013 and the increase was granted only for services that had been contracted before July 2013. I note also that recently the federal government allocated $25 000 for various family and domestic violence contracts. However, I need to point out that it is to be used only for COVID- 19–related costs. It is not to fund existing programs and, importantly, it is not ongoing; the money needs to be spent by December. Essentially, domestic violence services will need ongoing sustainable funding. It is not sustainable to keep rolling over contracts year after year if no significant funding increases are incorporated within those contracts. We all know that the government does not have an unlimited pot of money. Of course, we are in particularly tough times but we are talking about a very small amount in the scheme of the overall budget. The reasons for funding this are far more compelling than for some of the other things the government is choosing to spend its money on. WA currently has the second-highest rate of reported violence against women in the country and there are significant figures, particularly from our service providers, and these numbers are set to grow.

Significant gaps remain in our support services. Forcing a reduction on any of these services at this time is outrageous. It is really important that the minister meet with these providers as a matter of urgency and that we find a way to ensure that the money is made available so that we do not see a reduction in the services.

 

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