Women – Not a High Priority, Despite the Rhetoric

The Senate Inquiry into Domestic Violence in Australia released its interim report this week.  Many of the recommendations support the pleas of crisis accommodation services, women’s groups and welfare organisations for reinstatement of funding cut in last year’s budget. Although the final report is not due to be released until July, the current volatile political situation (with the possibility of a double dissolution looming) and the extreme severity of the situation, costing nearly $14 billion in 2008-9 (report p.2), was felt to justify the release of the interim report now.

The report details concerns over the $65m cuts to housing and homelessness services, $64m cuts to legal services,  $240m cuts to the Dept Social Services grants program, through which many domestic violence crisis services and men’s behavioural change programs are funded (p. 3).  It has been argued that the cumulative effects of these cuts, along with the abolition of the National Rental Affordability Scheme, the proposed changes to Family Tax Benefit and the intended introduction of a Medicare co-payment impact women, particularly those on low incomes, extremely negatively.  At least we can be thankful that both of the latter have met with strong opposition in Parliament at the time of writing.

These Budget issues were not identified in a Women’s Budget Impact Statement, which would have been the case in the previous thirty years.  Why?  Because for an undisclosed reason, the Coalition chose not to produce one for the 2014-2015 Budget.  An interesting decision by a government whose leader has been charged most publicly with misogyny.

The Australia Institute also released a gender analysis of the 2014-2015 budget which explains why this last budget compounds gender inequality resulting from previous governments’ fiscal policies.  In pointing out that the gendered pay gap is increasing, the commentary reveals that the core Liberal principle of ‘lower taxes’ is fundamentally biased in favour of men:

Government fiscal policy can improve people’s lives in three ways. The government can provide them with services, it can provide them with income support or it can reduce the taxes collected from them. As shown above, however, relying on tax cuts delivers significantly larger benefits to men, in particular high-income earning men. Women, who on  average earn less, are more likely to benefit from the delivery of services.

This government has chosen cutting services and reducing safety net welfare transfers as its first line of attack on the budget deficit.  Australian of the Year, Rosie Batty, was not shy of highlighting the hypocrisy of Abbott’s claims to tackle family violence as a priority after imposing $300m in cuts to essential support services, forcing some to close their doors completely.  Many Indigenous women have received a double whammy, with over $550m slashed from targeted Indigenous programs, forcing night patrols to cease operations and the closure of legal and domestic violence services.  When Aboriginal mothers nationally are losing their children at increasing rates due to ‘neglect’, and in Western Australia represent one third of women gaoled for non-payment of traffic offences (McQuire 2015), the impact of lost services and income will only exacerbate these social problems.

It is only to be hoped that the interim report is treated as seriously as the family violence problem in this country warrants.  Accurate data collection, a consistent national framework, and reinstatement, if not significant increases, of funding to front line support services are all essential elements to providing women with safe, viable opportunities after violence.

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