"Domestic Violence"

Page: 25935
Matter of Public Importance

Ms LYLEA McMAHON (Shellharbour—Parliamentary Secretary) [6.56 p.m.]: One of our top priorities as a Government is preventing and responding to domestic and family violence. The Government is determined to make women's and children's lives safer. We know the far-reaching effects of domestic and family violence on women and children as well as the emotional, social and financial costs on families and the community. We are working at all levels and across government agencies not only to reduce the levels of violence but also to improve the help government provides to women experiencing violence. Earlier this year the Keneally Government released its five-year New South Wales Domestic and Family Violence Action Plan: Stop the Violence, End the Silence. Supported by $50 million, this action plan lays the foundation for how we as a Government, as a community and as individuals respond to domestic and family violence. The action plan acknowledged that the role of the non-government and community sector is crucial in preventing and responding to domestic and family violence.

These grassroots organisations are at the forefront of tackling domestic violence and supporting victims. This direct role means that often they are best placed to develop and implement innovative strategies that are tailored to meet local needs. The Government's support for the non-government sector and acknowledgement of the sector's importance in domestic and family violence is reflected in its Domestic and Family Violence Grants Program. Each year $2.9 million is made available to non-government organisations for projects that aim to prevent violence against women and children, or to reduce its impact. At least $900,000 of this grants program is quarantined for specific projects that target domestic and family violence in Aboriginal communities, which we know experience higher rates of violence than non-Aboriginal communities.

I am pleased to advise the House that expressions of interest for our latest funding round opened today. Advertisements have been placed in a range of metropolitan and regional newspapers and on the policy website of the Office for Women. This year, the Government particularly encourages applications for projects with a focus on awareness and community education in culturally and linguistically diverse communities, and for women with disabilities as well as in Aboriginal communities. Reporting of domestic violence in these communities is low and the violence can be hidden. But for women from these communities domestic violence is very real. We hope that through the grants program organisations can develop and implement innovative projects to encourage reporting, to educate communities about the unacceptability of domestic violence, and to provide targeted and culturally sensitive support to victims.

Let me be clear. The grants program does not operate in isolation; it complements the considerable resources already being spent on domestic violence-related programs and projects. Let me provide some examples to the House. Staying Home Leaving Violence is the Government's $8.1 million program to enable women and children to stay safely in their home while the perpetrator is forced to leave. The Start Safely Program is the Government's $16 million rental subsidy program that supports in private rental accommodation women who leave violent relationships. The Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Program, a $6.9 million program operating across the State, provides support to women who take out apprehended violence orders. The Domestic Violence Proactive Support Services Program, with funding of $3.7 million, delivers integrated criminal justice and support service responses to victims when they first report domestic violence. The Domestic Violence Death Review Team, supported by annual funding of $500,000, reviews all domestic violence related deaths and make recommendations to prevent future fatalities.

In addition, the Government funds the recently expanded Domestic Violence Duty Practitioner Scheme and the Rural Women's Outreach Program, which provide outreach legal assistance to women in remote areas. As well as the accommodation options provided by Staying Home Leaving Violence and Start Safely, the Government also provides funding to around 88 women's refuges and, along with the Commonwealth Government, is expanding the Orana Far West Safe House Model in western New South Wales. The Domestic and Family Violence Grants Program is not just about giving organisations money to come up with a model that they think is effective. As articulated in the Domestic and Family Violence Action Plan, and consistent with our policy of building an evidence base around what works and does not work, projects that are put forward for funding must be effectively and positively evaluated in another area, or include an evaluation component as part of the grant application. It is about ensuring that best-practice programs are delivered. Since 2007-08 the Government has committed more than $11 million to the grants program and has funded over 100 projects across the State. In the 2009-10 round of funding the New South Wales Government funded 43 projects from non-government organisations across New South Wales. The projects covered a spectrum of issues related to prevention and early intervention, and included projects for Aboriginal women, older women, immigrant and refugee women, women with disabilities, people in same-sex relationships and young women. They also covered the geographic spectrum, with projects being funded from Wyong to Wagga Wagga, Campbelltown to Coonamble, Ballina to Broken Hill, and Wollondilly to the Wentworth shire—to name but a few. To give the House an indication of the great initiatives the Government has funded, I will share with members a couple of examples from the last round of domestic and family violence grants. They include a project known as the Deaf Society of NSW: Family Safety in Auslan and the RSPCA NSW: Women's Domestic Violence Program: Safe Beds for Pets.

Ms PRU GOWARD (Goulburn) [7.03 p.m.]: If only domestic violence prevention and intervention were as simple as spending money. I do not think any member of this House would deny the importance of money, particularly the importance of providing funding for housing for women escaping domestic violence. It must be noted that there is a huge shortage of both short-term and long-term accommodation for women and families wanting to escape domestic violence. We desperately need such accommodation in Tumut. In my region there is no domestic violence shelter that looks after women with families between Goulburn and Campbelltown. There is a shelter that takes seven single women in Goulburn. That shelter is funded by the St Vincent de Paul Society but is not able to receive State Government funding. There is an enormous shortage of temporary accommodation for women and families who want to escape domestic violence. I think we now recognise that accommodation that consists of a large shared family room and a shared kitchen with people in their own bedrooms no longer works. Now that the State Government has changed the arrangements so that a person does not have to be a victim of domestic violence but simply be homeless to be eligible for entry into a shelter, we are finding in those establishments women with mental illness who frighten other residents. It adds a whole range of complexities that makes shelters even more difficult to run. However, short-term accommodation is a very small part of the program. We will not stop women returning to violent homes—and many do so three, four or five times; indeed, in some cases women die on one of those returns—until we address the long-term issues in those families. The principal problem is that the woman is not able to fend for herself. Literacy skills and basic education are often huge issues for these women. As we know, unemployed women are most likely to experience domestic violence. We need to spend a lot more effort on literacy and ensuring that women have the skills to take on work that makes them economically independent. We also need to provide such women with longer-term accommodation, so they do not end up homeless and perhaps go to another shelter. I have met many women who go from one shelter to the next, to the next. We need to provide stable housing for these women and their children. I know the Government is very proud of its Staying Home Leaving Violence program, which I understand provides funding of about $110,000 a unit. I have to say that I was very attracted by the principle underlying the program: it is the perpetrator's responsibility to leave and the woman should stay in the house. However, I think the evidence suggests that that is not the best way to go. The evidence demonstrates that that arrangement only works for victims of domestic violence who have options—who, for example, earn enough money to pay the rent or the mortgage themselves. The other aspect of the problem we need to address is that we will not reduce the incidence of domestic violence unless we start to work with men. The New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research reported on the offences of domestic violence, particularly grievous bodily harm. When the bureau analysed the penalties that domestic violence related assaults attracted, what was most shocking was that less than half of them attracted a supervised penalty. It is true that prison is not an ideal outcome for many of these families. Alcohol abuse and domestic violence are very closely related, as are drug abuse and domestic violence, and mental illness and domestic violence. That is to say nothing of the absolutely fundamental problem that there are still men who think they can push women around. They think they can behave perfectly properly in the pub and at work but feel able to bash their wives' faces in when they get home and then say, "It was the drink that made me do it, sir." We should be shocked by the statistics, which reveal that much less than half of all domestic violence related assault offences that result in a successful prosecution end up being the subject of some sort of supervised order. Why is that important? It does not matter whether it is a bond or a prison term. What matters is that the man is not invisible, that his behaviour is scrutinised and that he is required to scrutinise it and to address his mental illness, his drug, alcohol or gambling addiction or whatever he or his counsellor sees as the reasons for his domestic violence. Until we get better at working with perpetrators we will not stop domestic violence. I have had this argument with the women's movement for more than a decade.

It seems to me that after 25 years of funding domestic violence prevention and support work we have focused on women; we have let the perpetrators escape unscrutinised and their behaviour has never had to change. That is where future domestic violence work must be done. In addition, of course we have to work closely with children. As all the research shows, if children grow up in a household where there is domestic violence, girls are more likely to become victims of domestic violence and boys are more likely to become perpetrators of domestic violence. We know that; no rocket science is necessary. We need to identify these families. We know who they are—the police know who they are because they go to their houses repeatedly—and we need to start working with these children.

We have programs such as Love Bites—which is an unfortunate name but a great idea. We need to make sure that such programs are much more intensive, or we will have another cycle of disadvantage. Domestic violence is closely associated with economic and social disadvantage. We will also have another cycle of intergenerational violence, of which a proud and rich society like Australia should be ashamed. While we are discussing domestic violence funding, we should be discussing the fact that, despite the billions of dollars in State and Federal funding that has been poured into resolving the issue over the past 25 years, we still have rates of domestic violence that will not decline.

Ms NOREEN HAY (Wollongong—Parliamentary Secretary) [7.10 p.m.]: I am very pleased to support the member for Shellharbour in this discussion because I consider domestic violence to be one of society's most heinous crimes. Addressing it is one of the biggest priorities of this Government, and indeed the community as a whole. Domestic violence is unacceptable and intolerable. Its long-term and short-term impact on individuals, families and communities can be devastating. As the Government's Domestic and Family Violence Action Plan identified, the costs of domestic violence are severe and far reaching. The incidence of domestic violence seriously affects the economic, social, financial, psychological and physical health as well as the wellbeing of women who are trying to rebuild their lives after experiencing domestic violence.

The action plan notes that the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children states that in 2007-08 New South Wales spent approximately $180 million on addressing domestic violence against women. That represents 33 per cent of total spending by Australian governments and the highest rate of all jurisdictions. Providing significant grants to community organisations is an important way for the Government to demonstrate its commitment to supporting these organisations deliver programs that respond to domestic violence. It also demonstrates that tackling domestic violence is a responsibility for both government and the community. I am aware of many of the incredible projects that have been funded under the Domestic and Family Violence Grants Program, and I commend them all. I am proud that the Government supports communities and community organisations in a way that enables them to provide flexible, locally based solutions to domestic violence.

Regrettably, while domestic violence is a universal problem with largely universal causes, effective responses do not fit a one-size-fits-all model. What may work for a young woman may not be effective for an older woman. Programs that support women and children who are fleeing violence are not necessarily appropriate for women who are single. Moreover, we know that Aboriginal women are more likely to seek assistance and support from services that are operated by Aboriginal people, or that have a particular Aboriginal focus. Similarly, women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds feel more comfortable disclosing domestic violence to a worker in a service that is culturally aware and culturally sensitive. Women in rural areas who are victims of domestic violence can also have particular needs that are different from women in metropolitan areas. Isolation, geographic distance and issues around confidentiality can have significant impacts on the ability of women to report domestic violence.

I am pleased that a number of the grants have included transport options for women to help them to flee violence and get assistance and support, and outreach services to facilitate access to support. The Government recognises that the grants program is not a substitute for longer-term funding for domestic violence programs. As detailed earlier, the Government's record of recurrent funding for programs is clear testament to its commitment to domestic violence interventions and responses for the long term. The $50 million action plan also supports that commitment. Through seed funding, the grants program enables organisations to develop innovative responses that are locally based and tailored to meet local needs. In that context, I acknowledge the great work and efforts of the Wollongong Women's Centre in my electorate that manages a number of domestic violence programs.

As my colleague the member for Shellharbour stated earlier, the annual $2.9 million Domestic and Family Violence Grants Program is currently receiving expressions of interest for funding. Applications are being sought, and organisations have until 21 October to apply. I urge all members of Parliament to inform key organisations and networks throughout the State of the grants program and encourage them to apply for a grant. I also commend the Minister for Women for her ongoing support for this important program and for her strong and tireless commitment to addressing domestic violence across the State.

I am proud of the Government's achievements in tackling domestic violence and acknowledge that we must always look for innovative ways to ensure that responses continue to be effective and appropriate. The Government's strong collaboration with the non-government sector is one of the key ways in which to achieve that. Community organisations that have direct contact with clients, families and communities can be the barometer for the most effective ways in which to respond to domestic violence, support victims and, importantly, raise awareness in local communities about this dreadful crime. The Government's ongoing partnership with the non-government sector ensures that important and effective community strategies are supported. Ms LYLEA McMAHON (Shellharbour—Parliamentary Secretary) [7.15 p.m.], in reply: I thank the member for Wollongong and the member for Goulburn for their contributions to this discussion. In directing my remarks to the issue of domestic and family violence, I note particularly the announcement that funding under the Domestic and Family Violence Grants Program is now available. Applications are being accepted for a share in program funding of $29 million that is available for community sector organisations to implement innovative strategies and solutions to reduce domestic violence in our communities.

I will focus on some of the points discussed by the member for Goulburn, one of which was that domestic violence prevention is not just about money. The member for Goulburn acknowledged that the Government contributes significant funding to support its domestic violence action plan, Stop the Violence: End the Silence, but expressed concern that the program was not achieving results. I will cite some examples to demonstrate the success of the program in my electorate. Recent Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research statistics show an 11.5 per cent reduction in domestic violence assaults. Since I was elected to Parliament, the police station in my electorate has appointed four liaison officers who are fully trained police officers who deal with domestic violence incidents. They have 10 domestic violence evidence kits that are used by police officers who attend an incident to collect evidence. The police submit that evidence to a court during the prosecution of an offender. The benefit of the domestic violence evidence kit is that the evidence usually leads to the perpetrator admitting to having committed the crime, and that avoids the victim having to undergo criminal court procedures, which can be very distressing for the victim and for family members. The member for Wollongong successfully obtained funding for a program that is auspiced by the Wollongong Women's Centre. Two community members will be based at the Lake Illawarra Local Area Command to provide support for families and victims of violence after the police have left the incident. They ensure that families have the necessary access to support services so that they break the cycle and do not continue to be victims of domestic violence. Significant resources have been directed to the Shellharbour electorate and the wider Illawarra region. That has resulted in a reduction in the number of domestic violence assaults. The details I have outlined are concrete examples of the success of the Government's program in reducing incidents of domestic violence. The member for Goulburn referred to the need for short- and long-term accommodation options, recognising that not one solution fits all circumstances. Earlier in the discussion I identified that $8.1 million has been allocated to the Staying Home, Leaving Violence program, which is designed to support women who remain at home but removes the perpetrator of the offence from the home. The Government recognises that that solution does not suit everybody, so we also have the Start Safely program that is supported by an allocation of $16 million to assist women to obtain private rental accommodation when they need to seek alternative accommodation. The Government also funds 88 refuges across the State. It is my experience that whenever I have contacted the Department of Housing for assistance for a family in crisis or a woman in my electorate office who is in crisis, officers of the department have been more than willing to work with me to find accommodation for the family or the individuals concerned. The member for Goulburn referred to support strategies to address the actions of the perpetrators of domestic violence. If a crime has been committed, a legal process of prosecution must be undertaken. That is the role of the police. The programs funded by the Government address the need for support of the victims.

Brothers Against Domestic Violence is another program conducted in my electorate that focuses on indigenous men. I spoke earlier tonight about the successful work that the Illawarra Koori Men's Support Group does. One of the successful programs run by that group, with the support of the Attorney General, is Brothers Against Domestic Violence. That group seeks to work with the perpetrators of this crime to ensure that there are strategies in place to address the issue.

Discussion concluded.

The House adjourned, pursuant to standing and sessional orders, at 7.20 p.m. until
Thursday 23 September 2010 at 10.00 a.m.
  (Source : http://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/prod/parlment/hansart.nsf/V3Key/LA20100922046?open&refNavID=HA8_1)

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