Womens Refuge Funding

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I move that this House:

(1)Notes that nearly 50 specialist workers attended the Blue Mountains domestic violence roundtable hosted by the member for Blue Mountains with the shadow Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.

(2)Acknowledges that Government funding cuts have left women's refuges with much less capacity to provide services, and women and children are being turned away.

(3)Calls on the Government to urgently allocate funding to existing services and programs, and ensure that Safer Pathways and the It Stops Here recommendations are fully funded.

On 9 February 2016 I hosted a domestic violence roundtable in Springwood in the Blue Mountains. The event provided an opportunity to hear firsthand about the impact of the Going Home Staying Home reforms and other changes in government policy. It also examined service responses to domestic violence in the Blue Mountains and outer Western Sydney. Those in attendance consisted mainly of professionals engaged in working with women and their families affected by domestic violence. At no other time in modern history have we witnessed such a groundswell and willingness to address this issue and to say that enough is enough: Domestic violence is never okay.

As politicians we cannot take credit for this seismic shift in public opinion. Services such as the NSW Women's Refuge Movement, women's health centres, rape crisis centres, and victims and survivors groups were and still are at the fore of this struggle and the campaign to eliminate domestic violence and other forms of violence against women. I pay my respects to all of the brave, persistent and valiant women who have gone before. Service providers have told me that the growing community awareness of the problem has resulted in increased demand for services, yet the system simply does not have the capacity to respond. It is not good enough to encourage women to seek safety and support and then tell them that they have to wait eight weeks for help. Access to suitable emergency accommodation continues to be the number one priority.

Even if the Government will not admit it, it is widely recognised in the community that the Baird Government's funding cuts to women's refuges across this State have dramatically reduced their capacity to provide safe accommodation and support services. As a result, women and children are being turned away every day. Whilst the Government has repeatedly claimed that not one refuge has been closed in New South Wales, according to Save Our Services at last count there were only 14 specialist domestic violence refuges left. In my area we lost Blue Gum Women's Housing, which previously provided exit housing to women and their children who had escaped domestic violence and needed somewhere to stay.

A few months ago an elderly Aboriginal women—I will call her Lois—contacted my office seeking emergency accommodation. She was homeless following a lifetime of domestic and family violence. Sometime in the week before she made contact she had called the Link2home 1800 number. She was referred to a shelter. Upon arrival she discovered that in fact the shelter was not a women's refuge but a men's hostel. She was extremely traumatised by the experience. That is not good enough. I believe that post the reforms staff from that major referral service did not have any domestic violence [DV] training.

I was able to refer Lois to a local specialist domestic violence service, West Connect Domestic Violence Services, which provided her with accommodation and support. Fortunately, West Connect won the tender for the Blue Mountains, Nepean and Mount Druitt areas. For nearly 40 years it operated as Penrith Women's Refuge. Since the reforms the service has been running an Aboriginal women's refuge without any funding. Aboriginal women continue to be some of the most at-risk groups, yet West Connect continues to negotiate with Family and Community Services to get its funding for Aboriginal women like Lois.

Domestic violence does not keep business hours, yet so many services operate only nine to five. Women's services activist Roxanne McMurray explained that approximately 33 of the 78 government and non-government refuges have 24-hour, on-call support. Some have it for only existing clients. We believe that 24-hour, on-call support at every refuge is necessary. The Government believed that setting up a 24-hour domestic violence hotline would be better than on-call staff, but it is not. Out-of-hours refuge staff are much more effective and appropriate people to speak to than a hotline.

With the current crisis in homelessness and massive underinvestment in social housing, exit housing for women and children leaving a refuge is the biggest barrier to safety. What happens to a woman and her children once she is out of the crisis stage? Where does she go? With ten years-plus waiting lists for social housing, where will she go? The lack of system capacity does not end with refuges. A local Staying Home Leaving Violence project worker explained, "We have more women recently engaging in the Staying Home Leaving Violence project than want a support plan to leave safely. This is an important option for women, yet there are only two of us in this specialist role in this local government area. We simply can't meet this most urgent need."

Our women's domestic violence court advocacy services are desperate for increased funding. Last year they received an additional 20 per cent funding for six months only. This does little to address the massive increases in demand for service provision that has occurred with the introduction of the Domestic Violence Justice Strategy. From July to December 2015 there was an increase of 89 per cent in client contacts. In the same period referrals made on behalf of clients also dramatically increased by 61 per cent, yet funding has only been provided for six months. The voice of children is frequently neglected and there is a distinct lack of funding for child‑focused services, including therapy, counselling and mental health services. There has to be an investment in the safety and health of children if they are to recover from these childhood experiences and build a future free of violence. If we are serious about addressing this issue, we must listen to the voices of women and children, and to those who are committed to providing support and sharing their expertise—the specialist domestic violence services and their staff.