HON MATTHEW SWINBOURN (East Metropolitan) [10.46 am] — without notice: I move —

That this house notes the continuing and unacceptable toll that family and domestic violence takes on women, men and children, and condemns all forms of family and domestic violence.

Comments and speeches from various members

HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [11.19 am]: I rise in support of this thoughtful motion that is consistent with the sorts of thoughtful motions that we routinely see from this member. We are having to talk about this issue right now specifically because of Hannah Clarke—I note that Hannah herself had started using her maiden name before she was killed—and her three children, Laianah, Aaliyah and Trey, who were brutally murdered only last month. Her story was particularly horrific. The distressing truth is that in Australia, approximately one woman is killed every week by a current or former partner. Last year, 61 women were killed by violence and nine have been killed so far this year. Family and domestic violence is occurring at crisis levels. Every sitting fortnight in federal Parliament, my Greens colleague Senator Larissa Waters moves a motion that includes the number of women who have been killed by violence in Australia. Every time she does that, the number has increased. Her motion calls on the federal government to properly fund frontline domestic violence services and ensure that frontline prevention programs are being appropriately funded. She has noted that funds allocated under the “National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children” are woefully inadequate and far less than what our experts say is needed to address the crisis. We know that a funding commitment of $5 billion over 10 years is the sort of money that we are talking about needing. The federal Attorney-General has responded by saying that the issue of family and domestic violence is too complex to be fixed with funding. Yes, but although it is complex, the truth of the matter is that it cannot be fixed without funding. It requires enough funding, for a start, to ensure that crisis support services do not have to turn away women and children simply because they do not have the resources to help them when they are reaching out for help. As has been pointed out, it is really hard for people to reach out for help, so when they do, the one thing we need to do is make sure that help is available. Instead, we are finding that beds are full and some of the phone calls cannot be answered simply because we do not have enough resources. Funding could fix these issues today, and it absolutely has to. Despite the need, the sad fact of the matter is that the federal government has recently cut funding to some critical frontline services such as the National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services forum and the Safe Places Emergency Accommodation program.

My colleague Senator Waters’ motion also calls on the government to publicise a national toll of women who have been killed by violence, just as we do with the road toll, so that we can keep this issue in the public eye and contribute to a change in the culture that allows it to continue. I think that is an excellent initiative. I note the important work that Destroy the Joint does to publicise this figure in the absence of a public national toll. Every sitting fortnight, Senator Waters’ motion passes without going to a vote and the federal government continues not to do anywhere near enough. I wonder what it will take before we see real action from the federal government to stop the epidemic of violence against women and children. Family and domestic violence is ultimately preventable. We absolutely need to make sure that we put in more funding to ensure that women and children are kept safe.

We also need an improved justice response. I acknowledge the state government’s work in this space, including particularly law reform, which we will debate shortly. However, as I am sure it is widely acknowledged, law reform is only one aspect. We also need better access to a broad range of legal support, including more funding for Legal Aid, the Aboriginal Legal Service, and for our community legal centre sector, which is very often at the front line of dealing with crises. We need better training for police, court staff, the judiciary and, of course, improved enforcement of restraining orders and better victim support services. It is important to ensure that our services are meeting the cultural needs specifically of Aboriginal women and families, and we need specific services for women with disability and for women on temporary visas. All three of those cohorts of women are at higher risk of family and domestic violence. We need to ensure that we invest more in behaviour change programs, particularly by ensuring that we establish the evidence base around the most effective program models.

On that point, I note that the federal government has recently announced $2.4 million for four behaviour change programs in New South Wales, Queensland and, fortunately, here in Western Australia. We will need more investment to address gender inequities. I also note the extraordinarily disturbing media following Hannah’s death. Clearly, we need to do much more work to change how we think about and talk about violence against women. Our Watch has called for a national gender equality strategy to focus on and prioritise the reforms that are needed. No woman should ever be turned away when she reaches out for help. We know that our crisis response services are under-resourced and overworked. They are doing an amazing job with the money they have, but it is not enough and all governments have an important role to play. Our Watch and other stakeholders have called on all governments to move beyond words, and it has been calling for action. Our Watch has said that what is very clear is that there is a compelling need for additional funding for violence against women strategies in all states and territories, including frontline crisis response, early intervention services and longer term prevention strategies, to prevent this violence from happening in the first place.

The Council of Australian Governments is meeting tomorrow. I hope that meeting will result in a commitment to do more to address family and domestic violence and commit to provide more funding and long-term prevention work to address gender inequality, including structural and systemic inequalities that are increasing the vulnerability of women.

I recognise that a huge amount of work in the family and domestic violence space is being done by community sector organisations. Unfortunately, broader sector funding is not keeping pace with the need. It is a highly feminised workforce, which comprises approximately 80 per cent of women in this space. Heading International Women’s Day this year was the Western Australian Council of Social Service and the Women’s Council for Domestic and Family Violence Services. They called on the government to commit to providing further funding to community sector organisations. The federal government’s equal remuneration order supplementation funding, which is about $500 million a year nationally, is set to expire next year. We need better state government funding to ensure the sustainability of these services, otherwise we will find that the delivery of services will get worse rather than better. According to the Your Help Western Australia campaign, we need about a 19.88 per cent increase in catch-up funding. I welcome the McGowan government’s allocation of $60 million over four years. However, this amount will be well short of the levels needed to sustain services. We need to make sure that the sector is viable and can meet the needs of family and domestic violence services, which is at a crisis level, and it requires an all-of-government response.

Comments and speeches from various members

Motion lapsed, pursuant to standing orders.


Parliamentary Type: