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Political parties ramp up their pledges to combat family violence as issue sees much-needed light

Funding promises: “Dealing with violence is hard enough without the real fear that every other part of your life will fall apart too.”

DOMESTIC violence – the scourge that goes on behind the closed doors of our suburbs and towns – is now claiming the life of one woman a week murdered by her current or former partner.

Every two minutes, police are called to a family violence matter.

One in every three Australian women have experienced physical violence since the age of 15, while the prevalence of sexual or psychological harm, including threats, also loom large.

Now, with a federal election approaching, political parties are ramping up their pledges to combat domestic violence – in the case of the Coalition, a commitment of an extra $328 million over three years part of which would bolster frontline services, safe places and prevention strategies. 

In the foreword to the latest instalment of the 2010-22 national action plan, Prime Minister Scott Morrison explicitly links the “scourge of domestic violence” to the Government’s first priority … to keep Australians safe and secure.

For Australian women the issue of safety – or lack of it – is close to home.  

Our Watch, the national organisation to Prevent Violence Against Women and their Children, reports that women are nearly three times more likely than men to experience violence from an intimate partner, and almost four times more likely than men to be hospitalised after being assaulted by their spouse or partner.

Former senator and founding chair of Our Watch Natasha Stott Despoja has released “On Violence”, a collection of essays that argue domestic violence is preventable, not an inevitable part of the human condition. “On Violence” proposes it’s time to create a new normal. It is time to stop the slaughter in our suburbs.

The new Coalition commitments include $82 million for frontline services, $78 million is for safe places for people affected by domestic and family violence, $68 million for prevention strategies, $62 million for the 1800RESPECT hotline service, and $35 million for support and prevention measures for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

The investment in safe places includes $60.4 million for 450 emergency accommodation places to assist up to 6500 people a year, and $18 million for the Keeping Women Safe in their Homes program, which provides women with services such as security upgrades.

The $18 million commitment matches one made by Labor in November, after federal funding for the Keeping Women Safe in their Homes program was to expire.

A new Labor pledge includes $60 million over four years to help domestic violence victims rebuild their lives, through tailored support packages for families.

This program is modelled on a Victorian initiative introduced in 2016, with flexible support packages helping survivors of family and domestic violence pay for their everyday needs like housing, transport, utilities, medical care or security.

Labor has calculated it could fund about 20,000 packages, with the $60 million coming from a banking fairness fund, a levy it plans to impose on the banks to fund community improvement schemes.

“We need to invest in more support for women fleeing violence at home, so that financial barriers aren’t the reason victims are trapped in a violent relationship,” Labor leader Bill Shorten said before unveiling the support package proposal. “Instead of asking ‘why did she stay?’ we need to ask ‘where could she go?’

“These packages are about helping people keep their life together in the most difficult of circumstances, keeping the kids in the school they know, keeping the family doctor, being able to work and study. 

“Dealing with violence is hard enough without the real fear that every other part of your life will fall apart too.”

Under the Victorian initiative applicants sit down with their case worker to discuss a safety plan. A grant is offered to maintain the ongoing safety of the person and their family, and so they don’t fall into the trap of returning to a potentially violent situation.

The grant money – averaging about $4000 – is used to fix unpaid bills left by a partner or spouse who has left the home, and then to pay for setting up a new account in a new home, and to keep the household running by helping with essentials like school uniforms, keeping cars services and rent.

The Greens have also weighed in, promising an overall domestic violence response worth $5.3 billion – far outstripping pledges from other parties.

“Ten women have been killed in Australia this year already, after 69 last year, and yet the Government has only committed $328 million over three years towards tackling this crisis,” Greens spokeswoman for women Senator Larissa Waters said.

“That’s why we have a fully costed plan to give $5.3 billion over 10 years, with $2.2 billion in the first four years, to ensure no DV survivor is turned away from crisis, support and housing services when they need help and that primary prevention programs are delivered to stop violence before it starts. This is the funding commitment it is going to take.”

Compared to Labor’s family support packages proposal, The Greens say they would commit an additional $200 million over four years to a Survivor Grant fund, which would give up to 50,000 family domestic violence survivors grants of up to $4000.

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