In January this year, the Prime Minister Tony Abbott drew attention to the “unfolding tragedy” of violence against women and vowed to put the issue of what he misleadingly calls “domestic violence” on the national agenda.
The qualifier “domestic” has long been used to downplay, excuse and even trivialise violence against women. Violence per se is to be condemned, and none more so than violent misappropriation of private property, but when it comes to male partners being violent towards women in their shared home this, in common parlance, is seen as somehow different. It is a sad and sorry reminder of the days when police would arrive at the scene of a violent assault yet refrain from prosecuting offenders because it was “just a domestic”.
If violence against women must have a qualifier, gratuitous — uncalled for, unwarranted, motiveless — might well be a better word.
Abbott’s new found concern came on the back of cuts that his government made in its first year of office to services aimed at preventing violence against women, assisting victims and educating children about healthy relationships.
These cuts resulted in tragic consequences that served to increase violence against women. Last year 18,631 calls to the counselling hotline 1800-RESPECT went unanswered and more than 150,000 people were unable to access help from community legal centres due to government cuts. Hundreds of women were turned away from homelessness services and women’s refuges each night as both state and Commonwealth governments stripped back funding.
Despite this appalling record of government neglect, the May federal budget contained only one gratuitous violence announcement — $16.7 million to help fund a community awareness program.
About one-third of the workload of community legal centres (CLC) is gratuitous violence support, yet this week details were released of further cuts to CLC funding by federal Attorney-General George Brandis.
Under his proposals, federal funding to CLCs will be cut by almost one-third, from $42 million a year to $30 million beginning in 2017-18.
Brandis also intends to cut funding to legal aid services. In NSW, about 55% of family law clients applying for legal aid report fears for their own or their children’s safety. Apprehended domestic violence orders are in place for 20% of applicants. According to the chief executive of Legal Aid NSW, the cuts will mean 15,180 fewer family dispute resolution conferences or 6680 fewer grants of aid for court representation.
The worst hit states are NSW, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania, where thousands of women and children experiencing violence will be denied legal assistance.
Gratuitous violence is the leading cause of death, injury and illness for women in Australia under the age of 45. Last year there were 81 deaths, so far this year there have been at least 34 deaths.
As the problem increases, government services that can provide some help and respite are decreasing.
Yet the pressing problem that Abbott and other senior government ministers are grappling with this week is whether or not to have a parliamentary inquiry into falling iron ore prices following a drop in demand from China. This tells you all you need to know about the Coalition’s position on women.