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Issue #1704      September 30, 2015

Editorial

What’s lower than the gutter?

As of August 31, 2014, the NSW Baird government closed women’s refuges and Aboriginal-run homelessness services. Many other women’s services now no longer operate as independent women-only services for women and children fleeing domestic violence.

These losses were part of government cost-cutting across welfare that introduced competitive tendering in the sector. The process privileged the big NGOs, almost all of which are Christian. In NSW, women are at least 2.5 times more likely to be killed by someone with whom they are in a relationship.

The government’s claim that its government-owned properties would remain open is an attempt at low deception. Any service that goes from being independently run and specialist, to Christian run and/or generalist is a closure. The same building being used doesn’t equate to the same service. Some have changed from 24/7 services to a minimal staffing level; 81 pre-existing community organisations have lost their funding.

Evidence shows that women and kids escaping domestic violence need a specialised service not a homelessness service.

In domestic violence situations, with reduced services to turn to, women are either forced to stay at home or leave and be faced with an increased risk of homelessness. That is the Baird government’s message, “Go home, stay home”. It is also the message of the Coalition federal government.

Despite the rapidly rising rate of violent incidents, the funding cuts under the Abbott government forced many women’s shelters into full or partial closure, and have crippled the operations of other organisations dedicated to protecting women.

Community group Fair Agenda says that because of funding cuts more than 400 people seeking shelter were turned away every night in the 2013-14 financial year, and approximately 150,000 people were denied help at community legal centres. The federal government offered none of these organisations any help in this year’s budget.

Further, under the budget’s restrictions half the nation’s new mothers will lose paid parental leave benefits, and access to childcare benefits will be more restricted. This will add to the financial penalties involved in leaving an abusive domestic environment.

Despite the Turnbull government’s lip service to addressing domestic violence (that it is “un-Australian” to disrespect women), under the situation arising out of the federal budget the outlook for victims of domestic violence has become bleaker than ever.

Australian parliaments are big on symbolism and window-dressing and short on action that goes to the core of issues. Australian of the Year Rosie Batty, has been on the campaign trail for proper recognition of the growing incidents of women being killed by a partner or former partner.

In July she put things in focus: “We’re spending hundreds of millions extra on the war on terrorism, but women who fear for their safety are still being turned away from services because of lack of funds.”

In a comment piece in the Sydney Morning Herald (September 26, 2015) Jenna Price, a lecturer at the University of Technology, Sydney, nailed the evasion on funding: “There can be no argument about the existence of these cuts. An examination of the figures provided in the 2015 budget and the National Partnerships Agreement shows funding disappearing in every state and territory on July 1, 2017.

“Politicians need to start answering honestly. Women’s lives are in the balance.

“The Minister for Women, Michaelia Cash, said on radio that she was concerned about ‘a false and misleading campaign of misinformation in relation to the funding’, and that $1.3 billion had been allocated to Legal Aid Commissions and other legal services.

“That’s precisely the answer [Attorney General] Brandis gave when he was avoiding the question of whether community law centres would be funded,” Price said.

“So the answer today is no. There will be no decent funding for the community legal centres because then documents say there is none. We can only hope for the sake of women in Australia that the government changes its mind.”

We may hope in vain. When the Baird government was slashing its funding, it threatened workers at the front line in the sector with loss of their redundancy payments and entitlements if they spoke out about what was taking place. Gutter politics? What’s lower than the gutter? The sewer is lower than the gutter.

Next article – Show your solidarity with sacked workers

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