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Thursday, 19 March 2015
Page: 1977


Senator LUNDY (Australian Capital Territory) (15:55): I present the interim report of the Finance and Public Administration References Committee on violence against women.

Ordered that the report be printed.

Senator LUNDY: I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

I do so acknowledging that this issue has stepped right into the public spotlight, thanks in large part to an extraordinary woman. This woman is the Australian of the Year as a result of her efforts. Her name is Ms Rosie Batty. On behalf of the committee, I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge her—her courage, her commitment, the fact that she has endured the most tragic personal circumstances, which have led her to this very public role—and to say to her: thank you, on behalf of all of us, because you are helping us find a way to stop this terrible phenomenon of family violence throughout Australia.

The reference was made to the committee on 26 June last year. We have received 163 public submissions, as well as confidential submissions. The committee has held six public hearings. During the inquiry, the need to extend the reporting date became clear, and the committee is now scheduled to produce a final report in June this year. I do not know what the committee will decide. It may well decide to continue to extend. Whilst acknowledging the need for more time to conduct further hearings, the committee agreed on the importance of providing an interim report ahead of the 2015 federal budget, hence the tabling of this interim report today.

As I mentioned, the Australian public are becoming more aware of the prevalence of domestic violence, or family violence, in our communities. I note with sadness that in my own electorate of the ACT we have seen three homicides in as many weeks that have been attributed in some way to family violence. On evidence presented to the inquiry, it can be noted that the emotional and personal costs of domestic or family violence in our community are enormous. Violence affects the victims themselves, the children, the extended families, the friends, the work colleagues and, of course, the broader community.

The statistics are damning. One in three Australian women has experienced physical violence since the age of 15, and almost one in five has experienced sexual violence. A study of Victorian women demonstrated that domestic violence is the leading preventable contributor to death, disability and illness in women between the ages of 15 and 44. As well as the emotional and personal costs, there is an enormous economic cost attributed to family violence. A study commissioned back in 2008-09 estimated this cost as being $13.6 billion and rising.

Given the enormity of the issues surrounding family violence in our community, we know the community is concerned about the Commonwealth funding cuts to a broad range of services essential to supporting victims of family violence and indeed addressing it at its cause. These cuts include over $64 million in cuts to Australian legal services over a four-year period, $44 million in cuts to new shelters and emergency accommodation, $21 million in cuts to housing and homelessness peak bodies, abolition of the National Rental Affordability Scheme and abolition of the National Housing Supply Council. The government has failed to guarantee funding under the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness past 30 June this year, placing other services at risk. There has been a $240 million funding cut to the Department of Social Services grants program, which has affected the funding certainty of many front-line family violence organisations delivering crisis services and men's behaviour change programs. While it is very difficult to quantify the full impact of the discretionary grant cuts on domestic violence reform, the committee has heard that the victims of domestic violence rely on many of the services provided with these funds. That concern was well reflected by witnesses who appeared before this committee.

One of the key recommendations is, of course, that the government restore funding to these vital programs. The cuts are real. I appreciate that, with the excellent goodwill in which government senators have approached this Senate inquiry, they are discomforted by the strong recommendations that the government restore the funding cuts as a baseline from where we go to develop new, better and more effective policy. But it has to be said—and this report recommends—that those cuts should be reversed.

I would like to conclude by acknowledging my Senate colleagues who participated in this inquiry. At times it has been incredibly moving, incredibly sad and incredibly meaningful in helping us understand how our system works and, indeed, how our system fails to support those experiencing family violence. Our system is not working; we need to improve it. We are not going to improve it by allowing a series of cuts to be inflicted across all of the services that surround and support how we respond to women and other family members enduring violence—by seeing that fall away. We need to come back to where we were and then build new, better and more effective programs and policies across all spheres of government. Local, state and territory, and federal governments need to work closely together to achieve far better outcomes. We have the insight now, and we will continue to get it. We had an excellent hearing, for example, in Darwin, where we heard from front-line supporters about what needs to be done in the Northern Territory to improve the support and to improve the systems so that we can help those in greatest need.

I would also like to acknowledge the secretariat of this committee. The Finance and Public Administration References Committee has not done a lot of inquiries into such a profound area of social need. I acknowledge the secretariat's enormous workload and their absolute diligence and professionalism in supporting the inquiry through recent times. Because I am retiring soon, it is with some regret that I will not be able to see this inquiry through to fruition. But I entrust in my colleagues their ability to take up the next stage of this inquiry, where we investigate fully what the policies of the future need to look like to improve this environment, to improve the landscape and support those in need. It does not do that now. If you need to get an insight into that, I would refer you to the transcript of the evidence of Rosie Batty herself, when she talked about what did not work for her, what does not work for others and what we ought to be doing to fix it. This is the next phase of this committee's work, and I am sure my colleagues will forgive me in projecting that, at this opportunity, to them.

I commend this report to the Senate. I commend the future work to my fellow senators. There is not a more important social issue facing Australia right now.