Domestic Violence

Earlier this month I visited the Penrith Women's Health Centre with my parliamentary colleagues the Hon. Sophie Cotsis, MLC, and shadow Minister for Women, the member for Blue Mountains and the member for Londonderry, and the newly elected Federal member for Lindsay. The Penrith Women's Health Centre is one of three services that lost a total of $250,000 in funding for domestic violence counsellors and caseworkers on 30 June this year. They were funded under the Labor Government's domestic violence yellow card early intervention program. Managers of Sydney Women's Counselling Service and Cumberland Women's Health Centre have also lost counsellors and caseworkers and were at the meeting to add their voices to the call to reinstate funding.

Domestic violence is chronically underreported as many women do not have anywhere to go and cannot access assistance. These services are an important first point of contact for many women experiencing domestic violence. They provide crucial early intervention for victims and their families, with counselling, case management and assistance with housing, health and access to income support. They worked specifically with women who were ineligible for assistance under the Government's Staying Home Leaving Violence program, which does not assist women who are still living with their partners. This area of need is yet another gaping hole that has still not been met in the Government's "reforms". Women and their children still living with violent partners desperately need early intervention and assistance to navigate the complex pathways to freedom from domestic violence, which is particularly difficult for those who are experiencing trauma from domestic violence.

All three services have made repeated requests to the New South Wales Government to extend their funding, with no response. I have written three letters of representation to this Government—two to the Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault and one to the Premier, written in conjunction with the shadow Minister for Women. However, sadly, neither the Premier nor the Minister have bothered to respond to the services, to me or to the shadow Minister for Women. With announcements being frequently made on the Government's reforms to reduce domestic violence and the Government loudly proclaiming a bipartisan approach to domestic violence, one would think that the Government would value the thoughts of the community sector and indeed the Opposition but, sadly, it appears that in this State the community, the sector and the Opposition are being treated like an accessory after the fact to the devastating cuts that are still occurring in the sector.

The Government admitted earlier this month that it did not even know how many refuge beds were available for women and children fleeing domestic violence in this State. On questioning from me the Government further admitted that this information was not useful, was subject to variances and was too difficult to collect. The Australian Bureau of Statistic [ABS] can collect this kind of data to track tourism accommodation. When I pressed the department on what kind of variances the information was subject to, it did not talk about refurbishing in order to provide better facilities, such as painting or improving rooms. Instead, the department said it had to refurbish because there were bed bugs in the rooms, as if to denigrate the most vulnerable women and children in our community who need those services.

The Government's cuts to early intervention funding and its ignorance of how many beds are provided by refuges shows that it does not understand the full complexity of the needs of victims suffering domestic violence. It also shows a total lack of commitment to providing early intervention and crisis services for victims. The consistent message I am receiving from workers in this sector and from victims who come into my office—and, I am sure, into the offices of all members in this place—is that accommodation, counselling and support services for victims are needed most but attract the least funding. Government members should welcome any efforts by the community and the Opposition to inform them, but it appears they are very comfortable in their government ivory towers while women and children live on the streets and in their cars to escape violence. It is a disgrace and it brings shame upon all of us.

The Government touts reforms and commitment to stamping out domestic violence but it is failing to put money where it is needed most—front-line workers in the area of intervention and providing much-needed beds in refuges. Women and children will continue to live in fear of domestic violence and indeed for their very lives unless the Government gets these foundations right. Working with the Opposition, the sector and the community is a vital step in this process that the Government has failed to take. The Hon. Sophie Cotsis, MLC, and I have launched a petition calling for the reinstatement of this funding. I urge all members of the community to join us in making this call to Government. The Minister must reinstate the funding urgently and, indeed, extend those services across the State to assist all victims of this terrible crime.

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