Senate debates

Tuesday, 11 May 2021


Catherine House

8:36 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise tonight to speak about a South Australian organisation that has changed many lives for the better. Catherine House provides services to women from right across the state. It is the only recovery based service that supports women in crisis and experiencing or facing homelessness, and it is the only service available to women who are not eligible for support through the domestic and family violence system. Currently 95 per cent of Catherine House clients are no longer homeless at the end of their period of support, which is a remarkable statistic. However, after 33 years of providing this service to South Australian women, its future is now uncertain. Steven Marshall's government has decided to change how homelessness and domestic and family violence services in South Australia are funded, and rather than individually fund separate services, the new model funds five alliances each run by a consortium of organisations.

This is where the issue for Catherine House arises. There is a statewide domestic and family violence alliance and four geographically based alliances, but Catherine House is a service that does not have a place in this new service delivery model. The scope of the support Catherine House provides does not fit into any one of the alliances, precisely because it provides services no other organisation provides, and as a result Catherine House's funding arrangement will come to an end in June. South Australia's only service that specifically supports women in crisis will see a loss of $1.2 million of state government funding, wiping out a third of its operating budget, and this is happening when women represent 44 per cent of all people experiencing homelessness and women over the age of 55 are the fastest-growing group of those becoming homeless.

The Marshall government has acknowledged that the new alliance model does not work for all services. For example, Youth110 is one of the services that has been determined as out of scope for the new model. Like Catherine House, Youth110 specialises in supporting a specific segment of our community, delivering crisis accommodation to South Australians aged 16 to 21. But unlike Catherine House, Youth110 will continue to be funded directly outside of the new alliance based service delivery model. South Australians deserve to know why the same approach has not been taken with Catherine House. Put simply, we must have properly funded women's homelessness services and we must have a state government that knows the distinction between women's homelessness services and women's safety services, because our community does not want women experiencing homelessness. It's not who we are. But without this service, with the cuts that are being imposed, single women in our state risk losing their only support option.

I have written to Michelle Lensink MLC, the state Minister for Human Services, urging the state government to reverse its decision to cut funding to Catherine House, and now again, in this place, I urge the South Australian Liberal government to reverse these cuts. I ask Minister Lensink: surely this is not what you entered politics for? Don't do what your federal Liberals have done for eight years—don't leave acting until there is a political problem. Do the right thing. Please remember how many women's lives have been transformed because of Catherine House. I have had the privilege, over the period I have engaged with Catherine House, of meeting some of them. I say: women in our state deserve continued access to these transformative and empowering services.

I want to thank my colleague Ms Nat Cook MP, the state shadow minister for human services, who is standing up for Catherine House and the whole homelessness sector during this time of change, with other vital service providers, such as Neami, the Hutt Street Centre and Vinnies also facing cuts. The sector needs Nat's advocacy and community support now more than ever. I also want to thank Catherine House's staff, volunteers and supporters for all that you do, and to recognise the women—the clients, past and present—who you have supported. These women face enough uncertainty and stress as they recover from personal crisis, and their state Liberal government should not be making it harder.