Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke this week about the system failing Hannah Clarke and her children, that all levels of government and the judiciary need to reflect on this, and he promised to act.
On the surface, this emotive display is certainly a feel-good one. It may even suggest that his Government will finally act on domestic violence.
SCOTTY KEEPS TALKING
Unfortunately, however, the Coalition has form when it comes to action on this issue and it is encapsulated in this comment, which the PM also made as part of that speech:
"Everything we have done across this country to protect women and children didn't protect Hannah and her children from this evil."
The problem is that the “everything” to which Morrison refers is easily summed up.
DONNING WHITE RIBBONS
Since 2013, various Coalition Government ministers have talked. They have donned white ribbons and postured about how awful it all is.
And we have listened.
Now in its seventh year in government, the Coalition has not lifted a finger to create any real assistance for the domestic violence epidemic. Instead, it has only continued to cut funding and allowed a scenario that hampers assistance for victims at every turn.
THE BUSINESS OF HELPING
Fiona, 57, escaped domestic violence at the hand of her husband and sought refuge with her elderly parents. A little while later, traumatised and penniless, she was told by Centrelink that she did not qualify for a one-off "Crisis Payment" as, in order to be eligible, ‘you must apply within seven days of your crisis’. Fiona was also informed that supporting documentation – which, in her case, necessitated a doctor’s certificate and a psychiatrist’s letter – would need to accompany the application, within that seven-day period.
A short while later, unable to afford a dentist, Fiona went to the dental hospital (which provides emergency dental care) but was turned away as she did not have a health care card — despite suffering from a severe infection requiring extraction.
“I feel very overlooked, personally, by a system that does not cater for abused people who leave the marital home with little or no monetary support.”
We can assume she is not alone in feeling abandoned.
Indeed, what person escaping a physically threatening and traumatic situation would have the presence of mind to make appointments (medical or otherwise), organise paperwork and have it ready to go in case someone should threaten their life? It is called a “crisis” payment — it's not an application for home renovations.
Starting with the Abbott Government, domestic violence services have been a labyrinth of cuts, followed by announcements of new services, making it almost impossible to determine how much has been allocated.
However, it is safe to assume that, at best, even with recent funding announcements, the situation has not advanced since Abbott first slashed services vital to violence prevention.
Meanwhile, the Morrison Government set up a Family Law Inquiry and installed Senator Pauline Hanson as co-chair — clearly not for her expertise or qualifications, both of which appear to be non-existent.
Hanson’s contribution to the Clarke scenario was:
"A lot of people are driven to this, to do these acts for one reason or another....
Don’t bastardise all men out there, or women for that matter, because these things happen."
Yet Hanson still co-chairs that inquiry.
In a political landscape where $630 million in additional funding was spent on counter-terrorism in 2014 alone, the Commonwealth contribution towards fighting domestic violence since 2013, is $840 million in total.
As family support agencies have been pleading for years, there is an urgent need for more funding, for prevention programs, for crisis accommodation and support, and for legal assistance.
We have listened as they promised to do more. When will they just do it?
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