Rosie Batty calls on Tony Abbott to reverse cuts to domestic violence services

Australian of the Year Rosie Batty has criticised Tony Abbott for promising to take real action to tackle family violence while at the same time slashing funding to family violence services.

After Batty was appointed Australian of the Year last Sunday, the prime minister announced he would be implementing new measures to fight domestic and family violence.

On Tuesday he announced he would create a new national advisory panel on domestic violence and appointed Batty and retiring Victorian Police Commissioner Ken Lay as its founding members.

He also announced he would elevate domestic and family violence to an urgent agenda item for the Council of Australian Governments. He said he would urge the Council to agree on a framework for a national domestic violence scheme.

But Batty has said that these announcements are meaningless unless Abbott takes action to reverse the cuts he has already made to crucial domestic violence services. She said it is hypocritical for him to make announcements about new frameworks and approaches when the cuts already in place are so damaging to domestic violence victims.

She said when compared with Abbott’s newfound public stance on family violence, the existing cuts are “contradictory”.

"It is a double standard, it is contradictory and totally undervaluing the part that these workers play in our front line services," she said to the Prime Minister’s office on Friday.

The cuts she refers to are to family violence services as well as homelessness and crisis accommodation services across the country. Altogether, the cuts are worth $300 million. Several services across the country will be forced to close after having their federal funding slashed or even removed in its entirety.

The cuts also mean that specialised staff across the country that are trained in assisting victims of domestic violence will be displaced. These services assist women and children fleeing violence in a variety of ways; from providing crisis accommodation in a safe and secure environment to providing legal assistance with domestic violence apprehension orders.

Many of these cuts will come into effect on February 28, with another round of cuts effective as of July 1. While a large amount of cuts were announced in the middle of last year, a whole new batch of unexpected cuts were announced just a few days before Christmas.

In his final act as Social Services Minister before relinquishing the portfolio to Scott Morrison, Kevin Andres announced deep cuts to crisis housing services Australia-wide. He even slashed funding to national peak bodies such as Homelessness Australia, who play a key role in advising the government on how best to provide victims of domestic violence and homelessness the services they need.

On top of this, new Social Services Minister Scott Morrison may discontinue a national partnership between the state and federal governments on homelessness services. If this partnership is defunded, another round of severe cuts to the sector will ensue.

The family violence and homelessness sector is already unable to accommodate the tragically high demand in Australia, and these cuts will see even more women and children denied support.

As Women’s Agenda reported last month, this year is likely to see demand increase sharply due to the publicity surrounding the Victorian Royal Commission into family violence, meaning services will need to be better prepared and better funded than ever. 

With even more cuts expected this year, Batty has called on the prime minister to match his public stance on familyviolence with real action by stopping and reversing his federal cuts to the services that protect its victims. 

Lucia Osborne-Crowley

Lucia Osborne-Crowley is a journalist and producer at Women's Agenda.

Twitter: @LuciaOC_

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