Senate debates

Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Domestic and Family Violence

4:38 pm

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Women's Safety (Senator Ruston) to a question without notice asked by Senator Waters today relating to domestic and family violence.

We saw last night duelling announcements about a domestic and family violence commission. The timing of the government's announcement was very interesting, because shortly thereafter the opposition party made their announcement and the two announcements were quite similar. Tomorrow is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Already this year 38 women have been killed by violence. That's 38 too many. Hence I asked the minister about these recent announcements, and I was a bit concerned by one element of her response. She seemed to imply—and I'll follow this up—that the commission the government is proposing would somehow be in oversight of frontline organisations. I hope I incorrectly inferred that; I hope that's not the case, because what this government needs to do is actually listen to those frontline service workers who are saving women's lives, who are drastically underfunded and who are working overtime, on the smell of an oily rag, often at award-wage pay rates, because they are actually very passionate about keeping women safe. So I was just a little bit disturbed that the minister made an offhand remark, which I will follow up and hope it is not some kind of watchdog role that they intend to play over the frontline services sector to try to stop domestic violence. That's the first thing I wanted to place on record.

The other point was we just had this women's safety summit. Do you remember the one that kept on getting delayed and ended up being by Zoom? In fact, it wasn't really an exchange of information; it was just a one-way broadcast. Anyway, at that summit one of the statements clearly made went to the need for more housing. This shouldn't be news to anyone who's been paying attention to this issue. Women are being forced to choose between violence and homelessness because there is no crisis housing, there is no transitional housing and there is no long-term affordable housing in this country. There's no social housing. Private housing—there are barely any vacancy rates. Rentals are through the roof and no-one can afford to buy a home anymore. Housing is a key issue for keeping women safe. I asked the minister—well and good about this commission, assuming they won't just attack front-line workers—how many roofs will that provide for women escaping violence? She didn't really answer that question, but, hey, it's called question time; it's not called answer time, after all.

I want to remind the minister that the fastest growing group of homeless people in this nation are women and they are older women to boot. Before COVID it was women over 55 who were the fastest group headed towards homelessness; now it's women over 45. This is a problem touching so many of us in this nation. Rather than passing the buck to the states, as this government likes to do, they need to step up and provide real funding so we have enough homes in this nation to house people who need them, particularly those older women and particularly women who are fleeing violence, and not just long-term affordable housing but transitional and crisis housing.

I also asked the minister about the investment, or lack thereof, in prevention programs, in particular, this government's vexed relationship with respectful relationships programs in schools. Remember the palaver about Safe Schools? This crew on the government benches are so torn apart when it comes to providing basic consent education to children to keep them safe and to teach them about what a real respectful relationship means, whether same-sex, heterosexual relationship, whatever. They just can't deal with the notion we should give kids the tools to keep themselves safe. Again, I didn't really get a response from the minister on whether they will stop attacking proper education and consent education in schools and start funding it, but this is not the first time we raised this.

The last issue I talked about and asked the minister about, again, not with a good response, was the quantum of funding that needs to be provided so no-one is turned away from a front-line domestic and family violence service when they reach out for help. The sector has clearly said it needs $12 billion over 12 years, which is the life of the next national plan, $1 billion a year. This government is providing—on the back of the envelope, my calculations—about two per cent of what the sector is asking for. It is not enough. Not a single person who reaches out for help after fleeing violence should be turned away. It is this government's job to stump up the funds to make sure those front-line heroes have the beds and the personnel to do that job.

Question agreed to.