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Tuesday, 7 May 1985
Page: 1434

Senator CROWLEY(3.58) —I had the opportunity to start my remarks in support of the Supported Accommodation Assistance Bill, I notice, on 22 April. At that time I made comment on three particular areas covered under this piece of legislation: The general supported accommodation sub-program, the women's emergency service sub-program, and the youth supported accommodation sub-program. All three programs are incorporated under the supported accommodation assistance program in this Bill. I addressed some of my remarks to the women's emergency services program now incorporated under the new legislation, in particular because of the very personal experience I had of significant lobbying by the women's emergency services program women in South Australia, especially those associated with the women's shelter movement. I made the comment that, although I felt I could appreciate their concern that the special needs of women under the emergency services program might have been watered down or modified or even lost under the change to the incorporation under this piece of legislation, the Government was at pains on any number of occasions to consult with the women. The advertisements and the campaign waged by the women late last year in opposition to the change in legislation covering the shelter movement in particular was, I think, unfounded but understandable. I understand that that fear of the women is no longer a matter of substance, but it is certainly important that the provision of services by the women's shelter movement be continued. It is of the gravest importance that that provision of services continue.

At the time of interruption of this debate I was describing in some detail the pattern of what happens to women who come into the shelters. On the evidence given to me from South Australia about 80 per cent of the women coming into the shelters come because of domestic violence. The shelter women have observed a particular pattern applying to women suffering from domestic violence when they arrive at the shelter.

It is as follows: When the women first arrive in the shelter they are, of course, very distressed because of the violence they have suffered and also because they have reached the stage when they have decided to make a break from home. Any of us who have been around people when they have gone through a marriage break-up will know that even when there is no domestic violence it is a very stressful and unhappy time for all involved. However, when one adds to the marriage breakdown the very real pain resulting from the violence which has been dealt out to women and often to their children too, it can be seen that the women arriving in the shelter under those conditions are particularly stressed. What happens is that they are accepted and settle in to the peacefulness of the shelters where they are not under threat of physical violence and where they are treated as people deserving respect and dignity. As I have said, women working in the shelters report that simple greetings such as: 'Good morning. It's a nice day', are quite a shock to many of the women who have been victims of domestic violence. They have not been regarded as humans worthy of that sort of greeting and it is sometimes a matter of relearning to be regarded as a human.

The women usually settle down and recover to some extent despite the difficulties they have to contend with. Then begins enormous pressure from the husband for the woman to return home. Usually the man arrives with all sorts of apologies and promises of how things will be better-what he will not do in the way of violence and so on. It is the shelter's evidence that very often the women succumb to that kind of pressure from their husbands. With the promises of no violence and that things will be better they return home. What then happens, almost invariably, is that violence is re-established. Of course, the man's violence is much worse than it was because it has been publicly acknowledged at least to those people in the shelter. The physical ill-treatment of the women continues. The violence is usually much worse than it was before because of all the humiliations the man judges he has suffered. After a period, usually not too long the second time around, these women return to the shelter and this time they do not need to be persuaded about the pattern that will follow should they return home.

At that stage the work that has to be undertaken in respect of any woman arriving in the shelter can begin. First of all there must be the necessary support for her, both physically and psychologically, and provision made for her children. Most of the women arriving in the shelters have children. If those children have been victims of domestic violence there must be the same provision of special care. Then follows the problem of finding accommodation. Very often accommodation has to be found at an address that will not be known to the husband. It must be kept secret. The necessary legal assistance, legal advice and the establishment of provisions to appear before the Family Court of Australia to set in train divorce, custody, property settlements, access rights, and so on, then follow.

The shelter movement provides an invaluable service to women and, very often as a consequence of the care of women, to the men in our society. The service comes very cheap and the women work, even to this point, for very moderate and modest incomes. One of the first priorities under the supported accommodation assistance program legislation is to get on with the very complex business of negotiating and establishing an adequate award for the staff working in shelters as well as in other areas covered by this legislation. But even so, the care provided by women in shelters for those people who arrive there in need is excellent and comprehensive.

In South Australia the shelter movement provides considerable support for migrant women. It provides a comprehensive translator service for those women particularly when they first arrive at the shelter. I was advised the other day by Frederika Steen from the Women's Desk in the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs that migrant people under stress, even when they have mastered English, will often revert to their language of origin. I was amazed to discover that this also happens when they become elderly. So it has been very important for women under stress when they arrive at the shelters to be able to speak to somebody who understands their original language.

The women discover that they are not useless and that they are reasonable humans who can contribute to our society. The shelter movement provides the opportunity for them to make that discovery about themselves and it also provides the physical assistance and information they need to establish themselves independently in homes, providing schooling for their children, and so on.

I refer to an initiative associated with the domestic violence problem in South Australia that does deserve some comment. That is the support for violent men program which has been established in South Australia. Some of the work was being done in association with Clovelly Park Community Health Centre where I once worked. To this point the men attending that course make the choice themselves-that is, they attend voluntarily. At this stage there is no indication that men should be required to attend the course. Although I do not have the figures from the final report which I believe has just been produced, the outcome of the group support for those men and the training and teaching given to them to manage their violence in other ways besides lashing out, usually at their wife or children, has been quite remarkable. The men have discovered that there are skills and alternative ways of behaving that they can learn. Most of them are enormously encouraged, heartened in themselves and to this point responsive to the support and care that they have been given.

The move to focus on violent men highlights a curious way we have thought in the past. When women are the victims of domestic violence they have been seen as the problem. They have had to leave their marital home; they have had to go to a women's shelter program which has been established by the initiative of women and in more recent times with the support of the government. That way of addressing the problem is enormously expensive and, of course, it is treating the victims, or the symptoms, and not the cause. Quite clearly, the cause is the violent man and it is only now that our thinking is shifting to focus on the problem and the cause of the whole disaster. I hope that as a consequence of the investigation of the management of alternative care for violent men, particularly, domestically violent men, over the next few years we will see a different solution to the problem.

I turn briefly to another area covered under the supported accommodation assistance program and that is the provision of funding to cover the non-clinical community based rape crisis centres and incest centres. I raise this matter again because of evidence with quite a history that has been brought to my attention from South Australia. The Adelaide Rape Crisis Centre was established as a result of a meeting of interested women in Adelaide in June 1976. Over the last few years the number of women and children presenting to that rape crisis centre has dramatically increased but, unfortunately, it has not to this point been matched by an increase in the number of staff. I take this opportunity to put on record some of the figures from the Adelaide Rape Crisis Centre and hope that under this supported accommodation assistance program further support, particularly staff support, will be forthcoming to that centre because it is quite clear that it is providing a remarkable and very necessary service. In 1984 the centre helped 532 raped women, children and their families and friends which was an increase of 161 per cent on the figure for 1982. The centre spoke to over 2,800 people in student groups, community organisations and parent groups. On its assessment, its volunteers-volunteers are necessary because there are insufficient paid staff-contributed over 26,000 hours of service to the community.

As well as information and immediate support and counselling for people attending in crisis situations, the centre provides research projects on training self-defence teachers for differentially abled women. It has provided research on the reporting and non-reporting of rape, the developing of sexual abuse programs for children, and rape prevention and avoidance strategies. The centre hopes to continue all of those things, and more besides. I think the most important comment about the Rape Crisis Centre stands in the evidence of the 532 women and children who went to the Rape Crisis Centre in 1984, an increase of 161 per cent on the figure of 204 in 1982. The centre has absolutely no reason to think that those figures will not continue to grow, that there will be any less need for its service. In particular, it stresses the importance of being able to provide a haven or a report place for children or women who have had incest experiences or been sexually abused. It is probably true to say that the numbers have increased all around Australia, but certainly they have in South Australia, as more and more people feel comforted by the knowledge that there is a place where they can make a report, where they can talk the matter out and seek some support if they should need it.

The Bill addresses another very important question raised by those two groups in particular but by all the areas concerned under the supported accommodation assistance program legislation; that is, the sense of security of funding for the future. The program establishes that funding for the next 4 1/2 years through Commonwealth-State agreements. That will be a matter of considerable comfort to the people involved in all those areas. We are looking at the enshrining in Federal legislation, and comprehensive legislation, of the value of those services, the necessity of those services, and the guarantee of continued Federal Government funding so as to ensure that they continue. I think it is a matter of real history to remark that change and how that change is signified by this piece of legislation.

I will spend my last minute or two commenting on the support part of the program that is provided for the increasing number of homeless young people in our community who are emerging as being very much in need of assistance, and accommodation assistance in particular. The reasons for young people leaving home and not finding adequate accommodation are many. I do not believe our society yet understands what are the many things that contribute to young people living in a homeless state for some years at least. The recent Senate committee inquiry established that the age range of young people who are homeless is no longer 16, 17, 18 or 19 years but, in fact, extends to much younger children, some as young as 11 but many more likely to be 13, 14 and 15. This matter deserves very serious consideration. The Government acknowledges that and addresses it as part of this supported accommodation assistance program legislation.

The other important matter on which I should like to finish concerns the word 'supported' in the title of the legislation. That support is to be understood, as it is now by the women in the women's emergency services sub-program, as a necessary and essential part of the financial assistance. That sort of interpretation of the word 'support' is also understood to apply to the other areas of the legislation, particularly as it affects young people.