The 2018 federal budget demonstrates an ongoing failure of the Turnbull Government to match its expressed desire to take violence against women seriously with the necessary national funding commitment.
The budget allocates just $18.2 million to frontline family violence services and to increasing national awareness of the issue. This is inclusive of funding provided to community legal services that provide vital legal assistance, and the $11.5 million committed over two years (2018-19) to 1800 RESPECT, the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling and information referral service.
In comparison, at the state level in 2017 the Victorian government allocated $1.9 billion to address family violence by implementing the 227 recommendations of the Royal Commission into Family Violence. In an early sign that the state of Victoria intends to continue to outdo the federal government, the Victorian Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence earlier this month announced that the state budget 2018-19 will include $42.5 million towards preventing family violence.
While Victoria is certainly an outlier in terms of making a billion-dollar commitment to preventing family violence, it's not an outlier in terms of state-based funding commitments outdoing federal government funding. The New South Wales 2016-17 budget, for example, committed in excess of $300 million over four years to specialist family violence services, and the Queensland 2017-18 budget provided $174 million over four years to support family violence-related initiatives.
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In the short time since the federal budget was announced, key organisations – including Domestic Violence NSW, National Association of Community Legal Centres, No to Violence, Fair Agenda and the National Foundation for Australian Women – have expressed disappointment in the lack of funding dedicated to family violence generally, and specifically to the services required by women and children to safely leave abusive relationships.
These organisations are calling on the federal government to match the Victorian Government’s $1.9 billion funding commitment. We enthusiastically support and repeat this call.
Keeping Australians safe
Announcing the federal budget, Treasurer Scott Morrison stated that "keeping Australians safe" was one of five commitments prioritised by the Turnbull government. This commitment was purportedly demonstrated by an increase in funding to tighten visa processing scrutiny, increase security at airports, and assist police and crime agencies to fight crime and terrorism. While we acknowledge that some of this funding is directed towards preventing and investigating child exploitation and abuse, the majority of initiatives funded under the government’s "Keeping Australians 'safe" banner cover counter-terrorism and international security measures.
The Turnbull government’s commitment to keeping Australians safe through funding counter-terrorism is undermined by the failure to take violence against women seriously.
We believe this is misguided and demonstrates a significant misunderstanding of the real national security issue in Australia – family violence.
Already in 2018, Destroy the Joint and Counting Dead Women Australia registers 21 deaths of women in Australia. This continues the decade-long average of at least one Australian woman killed by a man, usually her (former) partner, every week. Family violence kills far more people in Australia than terrorism. Despite this, when our federal politicians allocate funding and national resources towards "keeping Australians safe", their attention is directed largely at counter-terrorism measures.
In addition, the Turnbull government’s commitment to keeping Australians safe through funding counter-terrorism is undermined by the failure to take violence against women seriously. Attacks perpetrated in several Western countries, including Australia, over the past five years have been committed by "lone actor" men with histories of violence against women or apparently expressing hatred towards women. Examples include the 2014 Sydney siege gunman Man Monis; the 2016 Florida nightclub attacker Omar Mateen; Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, who in 2016 drove a truck into pedestrians in Nice, killing more than 80; and Alek Minassian, who last month allegedly killed 10 people, eight of them women, in Toronto when he drove his van at pedestrians. As we've recently argued elsewhere, too often in these cases a failure to take acts of violence against women seriously mean that such men are understood as men “who turned violent”, rather than already violent men whose acts of violence have escalated to new settings. This misunderstanding undermines efforts to better understand, combat and prevent lone-actor attacks.
What is needed
If the Turnbull government is serious about keeping Australians safe, it needs to commit the funds necessary to better understand, respond to and prevent men’s violence against women. Not only would this require a reorienting of the traditional "national security" perspective to recognise the connection between violence against women and public acts of violence, but it would also require a significantly greater funding commitment to "securing" the lives of women and children.
A federal budget that took securing women’s lives seriously would at minimum deliver an increase in funding to frontline family violence and community legal services to accommodate the increasing demand that such services face, and a funding package to support the provision of safe housing for women and children escaping family violence, to address the nationally high levels of homelessness linked to family violence.
The 2018 budget falls short on all counts. Without such commitments it provides yet another example of the failure of our government to take violence against women seriously and to elevate it to the national security agenda.