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Wednesday, 25 November 2015
Page: 8950

Domestic and Family Violence

Senator WATERS (QueenslandCo-Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (14:17): My question is to Senator Brandis, the Minister representing the Prime Minister. Today is White Ribbon Day in Australia and internationally it is the day for the elimination of violence against women. My question relates to the fact that this year two women every week have died at the hands of a partner or former partner. Front-line services like community legal centres, Indigenous legal services and homeless shelters still turn away over 150,000 people every year. The Abbott government cut over $200 million from affordable housing, $240 million from social services, $15 million from legal aid and $40 million from new homelessness shelters. Services are facing funding uncertainty, impending funding cuts in 2017 and inadequate existing funding. Will the Turnbull government commit to reverse those cuts and raise funding to the levels required so that no woman trying to escape from violence is turned away?

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:18): Senator Waters, the reason I took the first question that I did, addressing this issue, was to address the very concerns you raise. The figure you quote, that a woman is assaulted on average once every two minutes, was the figure that I also quoted to the Senate. So we know that this is a grave problem. It has to be attacked through a variety of measures, and at every level of government, not merely by the Commonwealth. But I did, Senator, explain to you what the measures announced in September by Mr Turnbull and Senator Cash, comprising the Women's Safety Package, involved. Let me run through them for you again, because it is a very major commitment in addition to and on top of existing legal assistance funding.

The PRESIDENT: Pause the clock! A point of order, Senator Waters?

Senator Waters: Mr President, I did take notes, and I have previously heard the breakdown of that financial commitment, and it is very welcome—

The PRESIDENT: Your point of order, Senator Waters?

Senator Waters: but I am interested in the question, which was: will you reverse the funding cuts of the former government?

The PRESIDENT: I remind the Attorney-General of the question.

Senator BRANDIS: Senator Waters, some of the funding reductions to the overall legal aid budget which had been foreshadowed in the 2013 MYEFO statement were, in fact, reversed as a direct result from an intervention by me with the former Prime Minister, Mr Abbott. You do not seem to be acknowledging that, but that occurred. But specifically in relation to the legal assistance sector, might I draw to your attention the $15 million for specialised domestic violence units, which bring together coordinated services for legal advice, social work, cultural liaison and hospital outreach. This is a problem which, when suffered by its victims, often manifests itself in a variety of different aspects of life which require the services of a variety of different professions and specialisations. (Time expired)

Senator WATERS (QueenslandCo-Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (14:20): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. This week, PricewaterhouseCoopers has found that, on top of the tragic human costs, domestic violence costs the Australian economy $21.7 billion every year. Given that you acknowledge the benefits of Australia's exports and other industries, will you acknowledge the cost of domestic violence in the upcoming MYEFO budget statement as the first step towards addressing it?

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:21): Of course there is a cost. There is a financial cost, an economic cost, to the economy. But, even more seriously, there is a cost to the lives of the people who suffer domestic violence—in particular, to the women and to the children who suffer domestic violence—and that is a cost so grave that it cannot be measured in economic statistics alone, as I am sure you will understand. That is why, in assembling a national and comprehensive approach to this problem, the government is tackling it in all the different ways that I adumbrated a moment ago in the Women's Safety Package. That is why the former Prime Minister, Mr Abbott, placed it as a priority item on the COAG agenda. That is why Mr Turnbull and Mr Porter— (Time expired)

Senator WATERS (QueenslandCo-Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (14:22): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Minister, last week the World Economic Forum's Global gender gap report saw Australia drop from 24th to 36th this year, and Our Watch acknowledged that gender inequality underpins domestic violence. When will you act to address the gender pay gap, the gender retirement income gap, the lack of women in leadership positions in the public and private sector and the unequal distribution of unpaid domestic work?

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:22): We do not think there should be a gender gap, and I am sure that, in that view, you and the government share a common position, as I am sure does the opposition as well. That is why, though, when we speak of the issue of family violence and violence against women, there are certain specific measures that we propose to take—the certain specific measures that I have indicated to you.

Senator Jacinta Collins interjecting

Senator BRANDIS: I am surprised to hear interjections coming from Senator Jacinta Collins, because I actually thought this was an issue that was above politics. But nevertheless, Senator Waters, you take this issue very seriously. So does the government. That is why we have introduced these additional measures to deal specifically with the causes of the problem as well as the consequences of the problem.