Womens refuges get funding reprieve

A small number of inner Sydney women's refuges flagged for closure received news on October 30 that their state government funding has been reinstated.

However, other city and regional refuges continue to face closure or loss of specialist services for women, including Aboriginal women and young people, following their transfer into the hands of churches and charities.

This attack is the result of the NSW Coalition government's Orwellian, "Going Home, Staying Home" housing reforms, which the government claims will "make services easier to access for people who are homeless or at risk" and "do more to break cycles of homelessness".

As previously reported in Green Left Weekly, the NSW government is reducing 336 existing services to just 149 services run by 69 lead agencies, 75% of which are Christian organisations.

The eleventh hour funding reprieve was announced the day before a rally was held to save women's refuges, outside NSW parliament. The action, called "Go Home. Shut Up?" was organised by the No Shelter collective. Speakers at the rally included No Shelter activists, refuge workers, public housing activists, and members of the Greens and the Socialist Alliance. Moving messages were read out from survivors and service users.

Later that day hundreds of women and men rallied against violence at Sydney's Reclaim The Night, where a speaker from No Shelter addressed the rally.

According to No Shelter, at least 11 refuges across NSW, including Sydney, the Blue Mountains and the NSW regional towns of Moruya, Bega, Bourke and Kempsey are no longer run as independent women's, Aboriginal or young persons' services, with another 33 Sydney and regional refuges facing the same fate.

Kempsey women's refuge, on NSW's mid-north coast, is one of the services no longer running as an independent women's and Aboriginal service, after its takeover by Samaritans. It was the focus of an article, “The Gutting and Gagging of Feminist Women's Refuges" by Wendy Bacon in New Matilda in July. A secure refuge offering specialist domestic violence services for 25 years, Kempsey lost its Aboriginal refuge worker position as part of the transfer and local refuge workers were made redundant.

The NSW government's attack on women's refuges is happening despite growing concern about the prevalence of domestic and family violence in Australia. In Australia, one woman dies from domestic and family violence every week and one woman is hospitalised as a result every three hours.

A Senate Inquiry into domestic violence in Australia was launched in June and has received 154 submissions from advocacy groups, service providers, the Australian Council of Trade Unions and state governments. Public hearings were held from November 4 to 6 in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. The inquiry will report at the beginning of March next year.

Dr Mehreen Faruqi, NSW Greens MLC commenting on the funding reprieve said: “It is only because of the hard work of women activists that the government has been forced to change their decision and this activism will continue until the entire program is overhauled."

No Shelter collective meets on Wednesdays at 6pm at the Redfern Community Centre. Email noshelter2014@gmail.com for information.

[Susan Price is the Socialist Alliance candidate for Summer Hill in the March 2015 NSW state election. A long-time feminist activist and unionist, she helped advocate for and achieve access to domestic violence leave for staff at the University of NSW in 2011, as part of the National Tertiary Education Union's enterprise bargaining campaign.]

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