9.25am | May 20, 2021




SUBJECTS: Visit to Women's Safety Services of Central Australia; family and domestic violence; Housing Australia Future Fund.

LARISSA ELLIS, CEO, WOMEN’S SAFETY SERVICES OF CENTRAL AUSTRALIA: My name is Larissa Ells. I'm the CEO of Women's Safety Services of Central Australia. I'd like to welcome Senator McAllister here into our space. We welcome the Federal Budget and the response to the Federal Budget. So, we did also have Minister Ruston here, and we had an opportunity to raise some of our concerns about the Federal Budget. We need to acknowledge that domestic and family violence in Central Australia is one of our premier social issues. We have the highest rates of domestic and family violence across Australia. We are disappointed that there was no additional funding provided to domestic and family violence from the NT Government in their budget announcements. There are several points in the Federal Budget that we are excited about, but it does leave several gaps in service. Our service is the only crisis accommodation service in Central Australia. We service a number of remote communities, as well as Alice Springs.There was no additional funding for crisis accommodation or for transitional housing in this budget, and we remain concerned about that. Our service receives 20 to 30 referrals every week for women requesting either crisis accommodation or outreach, and in addition to that we receive another 20 to 30 phone calls every day requesting service that we sometimes are unable to respond to.

JENNY MCALLISTER, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR COMMUNITIES AND THE PREVENTION OF FAMILY VIOLENCE: Thanks so much Larissa, and it's a real pleasure to be welcomed here to have a look at the marvelous work that Larissa and her team are doing for the women of the Northern Territory. Domestic violence is the leading cause of death, illness and disability for Australian women. Here in the Territory, we know that it is one of the most significant health challenges that the Territory faces. It is particularly acute for First Nations communities and we know that First Nations women are 40 times more likely in the Territory to be hospitalised for assault arising from domestic and family violence than other members of the general population. It is absolutely critical that we respond, and we are now having a long overdue national conversation about domestic and family violence and the role that we all need to play in solving it. Unfortunately, this is an area of public policy that has been largely ignored by the Morrison Government and its Liberal predecessors over the last eight years. They are now being dragged kicking and screaming into a conversation about these issues, and their budget reflects some attempt to engage with this incredibly important social issue.

One of the key things that we need to grapple with, if we want to deal adequately with the needs of women confronting the violence in their lives, is housing. Women come to refuge. Refuge is not intended to be a long term solution. It is a short term place to come at a time of crisis. But too many women find that having approached refuge, there is nowhere to go. And people say, “Why won't she leave?” Well, the answer is because there is nowhere to go. And so we find in many instances that refuges are full. And they're full in part because the transitional accommodation that a woman might move on to is full. And the transitional accommodation is full because there is no public housing. In many parts around Australia – particularly during the COVID crisis – we are finding rental availability rates of under 1 per cent. There just is no housing in the private market, and years of underinvestment in public housing, social housing, affordable housing has exacerbated this crisis. That's why housing was such a key feature of the budget response delivered by Anthony Albanese last week. Labor in government will create a $10 billion fund to tackle affordable housing that will allow us to build 20,000 new public housing homes, affordable homes, and we intend to allocate 4,000 of those to women and children escaping violence. From this fund we also believe that we can allocate $100 million to create new crisis and transitional accommodation. We understand that housing is absolutely critical for many of the women who are seeking to escape violence. The stories we hear from the workers at refuges like this are that these women are brave. They are full of courage and they are strong. And they deserve support from government to rebuild their lives and to create a new safe place for themselves and their children to live.

JOURNALIST: This funding focuses on, you know, women who are experiencing crisis or you know, women who have experienced crisis and looking to take the next step. You know, what can be done earlier in the piece to, where can funding go earlier to prevent women reaching crisis point?

MCALLISTER: Prevention is absolutely critical. We are now moving into a period where the Government is saying that they are revising the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children. I would like to see as part of that process a focus on prevention, and also a focus on the role that all governments can play to support women and children earlier in the cycle of violence. There is a role for schools, there is a role for childcare centres, there is a role for GPs, there is a role for hospitals, there is a role for Centrelink. We need to make sure all of our institutions are alive to the possibility of violence and have the skills necessary to intervene and support women who need our help.

JOURNALIST: Yesterday Anne Ruston told ABC Local Radio that the Government was not going to renew the $130 million emergency funding and provided to service providers for domestic violence because it hadn't all been spent. She said, it came out later that the Territory hadn’t supposedly given a third of that money to services. What do you say to that?

MCALLISTER: The Government has been dragged kicking and screaming to this. Just weeks ago, they were saying that they did not intend to extend the money that had been provided during the pandemic. But all the frontline service workers will tell you this: that the pandemic isn't over, and neither is the violence that it produced. The budget does provide something like a rollover of that money, but the Commonwealth still continues to quibble about whether or not they're going to provide that to the states and territories and on what terms. If they visited any of these services, what they would know is that there is immense need for the money. All of these services are stretched. And the prospect of this money not continuing, despite the fact that the pandemic is continuing, is just unacceptable.

JOURNALIST: Given the exceptionally high rates of domestic violence in the Northern Territory, do you think the NT receives enough of the national pie?

MCALLISTER: I think that we need to look carefully at the way that services are delivered around the country and the need that is there. And I would hope that that is a part of the new national plan. We hear regularly from First Nations communities that they want to be involved in designing the responses that will support their communities. I am calling on the government to make sure that Indigenous voices are properly heard in the process of thinking about what the service response will be.

JOURNALIST: Do you think there should be a separate funding stream specifically aimed at Indigenous experience of domestic violence?

MCALLISTER: I think there are mixed views about that within the Aboriginal community. What I am calling for in the first instance is proper consultation with the broadest possible range of First Nations women. First Nations women are asking to be included in the design and delivery of services in their own communities. This is a perfectly sensible expectation, and one that Labor supports.

JOURNALIST: What do you make of plans to create an Indigenous advisory group? I'm assuming that that's what you also are referring to in terms of First Nations people wanting to have a say in this issue? Is this a positive step? It's been developed by the Federal Government.

MCALLISTER: We welcome any steps to consult properly with First Nations women. We don't have any details about the proposed First Nations advisory group. We don't know its membership.We don't know its function. Any steps to consult need to consider the role of the women that are involved, making sure that we've got a broad spread of voices and perspectives from all around the country. But most importantly, we actually need to listen to those women. We don't want to have another exercise where women are asked what they think and then their voices are ignored.

JOURNALIST: In response to the advisory group being announced, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar said it was important that First Nations women were involved in efforts to improve outcomes particularly for remote communities. But it needs to happen across a range of issues and you've also touched on things like child care and schools. Can you maybe drill down into a little bit about how this is a more complex issue that goes beyond trying to just stop violence in the family home? And what are you proposing to try and fix that?

MCALLISTER: Violence is at alarming levels across the Australian community, and if we are going to respond to it in a meaningful way, it is going to take time, and real thought about the institutions that need to be involved in that response. Because everyone has a part to play. It is incredibly important that services like the one we're at today are there when violence reaches a crisis point in a woman's life. But as I said earlier, there are many opportunities for us to do better in our other institutions: in our schools, in our hospitals, in our clinics, at the Centrelink office. What I'd like to see is the Commonwealth Government take a leadership role in really thinking carefully about the role that all of those institutions can play. To do that, in a way that is effective in First Nations communities, they're going to need to talk with First Nations communities about their experiences with all of those institutions.

JOURNALIST: The NT Working Women's Centre lost its, or its federal funding wasn't renewed in December, and then in this budget, it was given half of a $200,000 allocation. So $100,000, which it says will last until August. Do you think that's good enough?

MCALLISTER: I visited the working Women's Centre this morning. They are doing incredibly important work that nobody else is doing or can do. Women increasingly find themselves in very complex situations in their workplace. More than a year ago, the Government was handed the Respect@Work report. They sat on it for 12 months without providing a response. The then Attorney-General Christian Porter did not meet with the author of that report in that entire period. That report contains recommendations that Working Women's Centres be supported because of the specific unique role that they play in supporting women who are having problems in their workplaces. I don't think this response is good enough, and I think we need to call on the Attorney-General to explain why it is she doesn't think these services are important and what she thinks the future is for these services.

JOURNALIST: The NT Working Women’s Centre has said that they would like to see working women's legal centres funded in the same way that Aboriginal legal services are funded, as you know, having a dedicated stream. What do you think about that idea?

MCALLISTER: These services are playing an immensely important role, and it is a role that is not played by any of the other institutions working in this space. The Government hasn't made clear its intentions for the future of this service, or indeed for that sector overall, despite the fact that there's a very clear recommendation in the Respect@Work report about the significance of these services. That is not good enough.

JOURNALIST: What role does the Northern Territory government, or responsibility, do they have in tackling this issue? You’ve talked a lot about the Federal Government. Isn’t there responsibility from the Gunner government to also ensure safety for remote communities?

MCALLISTER: All governments have a part to play and when Labor was last in government, we initiated the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children precisely because of this reason. We need the Australian Government to cooperate with the states and territories to build integrated responses so that when women reach out for help, they are not turned away. That is going to take a collaboration between states, territories and the Commonwealth. What it really needs is leadership, and the problem is for the last eight years there has been virtual silence on this question from the Commonwealth Government, and they are now – just now – identifying this as a priority. We wait and see whether they can deliver. Unfortunately their track record is not good.



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