MEDIA RELEASE: Baird Government unclear on the number refuge beds

The State Government has been forced to admit it does not know how many crisis accommodation beds it has available for women and children escaping domestic violence on any one night.

This is particularly shocking given increasing domestic violence, increasing demand for beds, and increasing reports of cash-strapped refuges being forced to turn away women and children.

It is also shocking in the context of a so-called whole of government commitment to tackling domestic violence, and “reforms” which were supposed to increase transparency in the sector.

On 19 May, under the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009, Shadow Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Jenny Aitchison asked the Department of Family and Community Services (FACS) how many beds were available as of 1 January 2016 for women leaving domestic violence, in both specialist refuges, and all refuges. She also sought comparable figures for 2014.

In a letter dated 17 June, the FACS Right to Information Unit manager responded: “FACS does not hold any information that falls within the scope of your application.”

Ms Aitchison subsequently contacted the department and was advised that FACS does not and never has recorded the number of beds available at any one time for women and children escaping domestic violence.

Reasons given included that collecting such data was “complicated”, “not helpful” and “subject to variances”, including potential under-occupancy, and having beds out of operation for such reasons as “bed bugs”. The government preferred to talk about a “whole suite of support available”.

Ms Aitchison has asked the government for a breakdown from the budget of its domestic violence prevention initiatives, and homelessness crisis accommodation funding, including how many beds will go to women and children escaping domestic violence.

Quotes attributable to Shadow Minister for Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Jenny Aitchison

“I am dumbfounded the government does not know how many beds it has available for desperate women and children fleeing domestic violence.

“How can you improve what you cannot measure? If we don’t start collecting meaningful data, how can we build on capacity, or know what areas need improving?

“Arguments that collecting this data on beds is ‘complicated’, ‘not helpful’, and ‘subject to variances’, are offensive to the women who need them, and the support services who work so hard to provide them.

“How can the government tout reforms and initiatives in domestic violence prevention when it is failing on the front line?”

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