Wednesday, 14 September 2016
Newcastle Electorate: Family and Domestic Violence
I want to draw the House's attention to an important community event that took place in my electorate of Newcastle—the One Thousand People, One Voice Standing Against Domestic Violence event at Hunter Stadium. This event was organised by The Sista Code, a coalition of Novocastrians working to empower women in the community and support local groups who work tirelessly providing frontline services for women and children escaping domestic and family violence.
Family violence is still tragically far too common across Australia. One in three women over the age of 15 have experienced physical violence, while one in six have experienced physical or sexual violence from a current or former partner. Staggeringly, only 20 per cent of Australian women who experience partner violence report it to the police. These statistics reflect a problem that has reached epidemic proportions—an epidemic exacerbated by the Liberal government's ongoing cuts to vital frontline services.
Across Australia the provision of safe and secure housing for those fleeing family violence is particularly acute. In Newcastle, over half of the women showing up to shelters each night must be turned away due to a lack of beds—and those turned away then run the very real risk of being placed in unsuitable or unsafe 'temporary' housing. We know that it is when women and children first leave violent and destructive relationships that they are most vulnerable, so it is absolutely vital that there be safe, secure and supportive accommodation places for them to go. In Newcastle, that means we need more organisations like Jenny's Place, which plays an invaluable role supporting women with crisis accommodation and providing a range of important wrap-around services to help break the cycle of violence.
Regrettably, the successful Jenny's Place model is not always replicated. Recent reports of women in Newcastle being housed in accommodation set up for newly released male prisoners and homeless men—some of whom may in fact be perpetrators of violence themselves—are especially distressing. This situation has at times been found to be so unsafe that women have chosen to return to their abusive partners, in a house that is at least familiar, rather than place themselves at increased risk in strange circumstances that fail to provide the safety, security and support they require. Unfortunately this situation is becoming all too common for vulnerable women and children in Newcastle. How is it that we could have state government departments directing women and children to emergency accommodation facilities that are completely inappropriate and in some cases unsafe?
This is not a problem peculiar to Newcastle and New South Wales. Given that more than a third of people who access specialist homelessness services are seeking assistance due to domestic and family violence, it is well and truly time to start a national conversation about national standards for these services. We cannot expect women to leave abusive relationships if they do not have somewhere safe to go to. (Time expired)