Cruellest budget blow

Domestic violence

After the shock of budget cuts to the most vulnerable in last year’s Federal Budget, it would appear commentators have reacted favourably to the Abbott Government’s second attempt to balance the nation’s books.

While yet again it is those on the margins of society who will be hit hardest by belt-tightening measures, the blow has been softened somewhat by a tempering of the government’s attitude towards the unemployed and generous concessions to small business owners.

But one glaring omission from the financial distribution has been funding to help women and children who are victims of domestic violence.

So far, the government has failed to respond meaningfully when challenged about its commitment to assist the more than 400 people turned away each night from homelessness shelters or the 150,000 people denied legal advice from community legal centres. According to women’s welfare and advocacy groups, the majority of those seeking help are fleeing domestic violence.

While $30 million has been earmarked in the budget for an ‘awareness campaign’, those working on the frontline of domestic violence services have pointed out that raising awareness is futile if services simply aren’t available.

Karen Willis is the executive officer of Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia. She told The Age that currently, one in four calls to 1800RESPECT hotline go unanswered.

“Women are making incredibly brave steps to come forward and we’re not there, it’s not good enough,” she said. “Completely ignoring domestic violence [in the budget] was not the sort of leadership we were looking for.”

Some community leaders have questioned the Abbott government’s commitment to countering domestic violence, comparing the $30 million pledged with the $1.2 billion to stop terrorism.

Speaking at a Law Society forum in Canberra on Wednesday, Australian of the Year Rosie Batty asked that the issue of family violence be put into context.

“If we look at the money that we spend in [combating] terrorism overseas, for the slight risk that it poses to our society, it is disproportionate completely,” Ms Batty said.

“Let’s start talking about family terrorism. Maybe then, with that context and that kind of language we will start to get a real sense of urgency.”

Violence against women has been described as an epidemic, with 36 women killed as a result of family violence so far this year.

Advocacy organisation Fair Agenda is running a campaign – What will it take? The campaign calls on all Australian governments to commit to adequate funding to help the community better respond to those trapped in the cycle of family violence.

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