Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten have made significant funding promises for domestic violence, but it falls well short of the money we spend on terrorism.
Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten have made significant funding promises for domestic violence, but it falls well short of the money we spend on terrorism. RICHARD WAINWRIGHT/ERIK ANDERSON

How serious are Shorten and ScoMo about domestic violence?

With less than a week left of the election campaign we need to look at just how serious Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten are about eradicating domestic violence in Australia. And consider if they really are at all, writes SHERELE MOODY.

WHEN Scott Morrison announced in March that he would - if re-elected - allocate $328million over three years towards domestic violence issues, he very proudly told the gathered media that it was a "record Commonwealth investment" into a "national security issue".

This might be something to celebrate for Mr Morrison, but in reality the amount of money pledged is a sad indictment on the value the people who control the country's purse strings place on the lives of women and children in Australia.

We really need to ask ourselves, how can we have come so far in the battle to end domestic violence and never had a federal government dedicate more than a $110million a year to the problem?

Domestic and family violence has been tearing Australian lives asunder since the day dot and - until relatively recently - was rarely considered to be a public problem.

It was something that happened behind closed doors and stayed behind closed doors.

When I was a cub reporter covering the courts some 25 years ago, it was not unusual for editors, police, lawyers, magistrates and judges to shrug their shoulders and say "it's just another domestic" before relegating abhorrent acts of familial abuse to the wayside.

But attitudes are changing - thanks in part to brave women like Rosie Batty who have given the problem a desperately needed face and voice.

Rosie Batty speaks about domestic violence for International Women's Day.
Photo: Warren Lynam / Sunshine Coast Daily
Rosie Batty helped change perceptions of domestic violence. Warren Lynam

Media outlets are publishing more articles, judges are serving up tougher sentences, states and territories are crafting criminal codes that reflect all aspects of abuse, police are tightly aligned to support agencies so victims get a holistic approach to their situation and ordinary Aussies are more aware of the little nuances that underpin abusive relationships. 

Still, statistics paint an extremely grim picture of domestic and family violence in Australia.

It leads to the death of at least one woman a week, it kills - on average - one child every fortnight and one man each month.

Our nation's police handle more than 700 domestic and family violence call-outs a day.

About one in six women and one in 16 men have experienced physical or sexual violence at the hands of a partner.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare research also shows 72,000 women, 34,000 children and 9000 men a year are made homeless through family violence.

If the significant human impact does not justify earmarking at least one billion federal dollars a year to the problem, surely the economics would?

A 2016 KPMG report says violence against women and children costs our economy a whopping $21.6billion a year, placing huge imposts on the basic social infrastructure that keeps our nation ticking along.

Pain, suffering and premature death accounts for $10.4billion a year and $7.8billion is needed to cover health services, courts, policing and economic support for victims.

The study was released almost three years ago - so this figure would most certainly be higher now.

And the view from the frontline is shocking.

Our refuges and emergency housing are bursting at the seams, because there are more people in need of crisis accommodation than there are beds.

Community legal services are turning away survivors in droves as they do not have the resources to help them navigate complex family court issues and violence orders.

Immigrant and refugee women, women with disabilities, indigenous women and queer and transgender women face multiple barriers to leaving abuse, which is further hampered by a one-size fits all approach to support.

And the male victims? What do they get?

There is no funding set aside for specialised refuges for fathers with children and of course they too are expected to be supported by a sector that can barely meet the needs of women in crisis.

Men's behaviour change programs are also grossly under-funded and support services for child and adolescent victims are pushed to the limits.

Our jails are full of people who choke, strangle, stab and bash loved ones and our kids are watching all of this, absorbing it and facing the likelihood that they may perpetuate the abuse or become victims themselves.


People are dying at the hands of violent men at horrific rates. Picture: AAP Image/Glenn Hunt
Domestic and family violence leads to the death of at least one woman a week and – on average - one child every fortnight and one man each month.

Despite the human and economic toll, domestic violence has not really been a talking point during this election campaign.

It gained a little traction off the back of funding announcements though and so, it is through these pledges, that we can determine the weight the parties have given to the problem.

Both Mr Morrison and Bill Shorten have played a mini-game of one-upmanship with their funding promises.

Mr Morrison kicked off his campaign with the offer of $110million a year for three years.

The good thing is - we have his commitment to "record spending" on the issue.

The bad thing is - it falls well short of what we need to truly support all victims and to also fund initiatives designed to turn the tide on the drivers that underpin violence.

While Mr Morrison's pledge received broad support outside of the domestic violence sector, people impacted by abuse and the professionals who care for them were less impressed - and they had reason to be.

Only $27.3million a year is earmarked for frontline services that are crushed by the weight of demand on them.

The national hotline - 1800 RESPECT - will receive about $20million a year - not a lot considering it recorded a 22 per cent increase in calls last year.

Mr Morrison will also spend $26million a year on emergency accommodation, with this funding expected to house just 6500 women and kids. There is no mention of housing support for men.

One small part of the pledge is a prime example of how Mr Morrison really missed the mark on this issue, leading to claims he did not consult with the sector before making his captain's call.

He will spend $10million on "couples counselling and dispute resolution" services.

Anyone working in the sector will tell you that couples counselling for domestic violence victims is dangerous and that it reinforces that victims are in some way to blame for violence.

Women's Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service director Hayley Foster was one of many professionals who were shocked by this move.

"A woman will feel that she is not able to be honest or speak up in those sessions for fear of retribution afterwards," she said in an interview with the ABC.

"And there are many cases, countless cases where women are in a mediation situation where there's retribution either on herself and or the children."

But has Labor offered anything better?

Kind of. Sort of. Not really.

For a political leader who has spent the entire campaign reaching out to the underdog - Mr Shorten really missed the mark here.

He promised to double the Coalition's pledge, putting $660million on the table if the ALP wins.

This amounts to $220million a year for three years.

About half is earmarked for more emergency accommodation, expanding legal supports and rolling out extra specialised domestic violence units.

But again, it just is not enough money.

A candlelight vigil will be held at Raby Bay Harbour Park on Wednesday from 5.30pm (Picture. AAP/Emma Brasier)
A 2016 KPMG report says violence against women and children costs our economy a whopping $21.6 billion a year, placing huge imposts on the basic social infrastructure that keeps our nation ticking along.

The Greens seem to be getting the point, saying they would spend $5.3billion over 10 years on the issue, given the chance - or $530 million a year.

Their commitment is more in line with what Australia requires but, the Greens will unlikely hold power so it's just a nice pipe dream.

The Women's Electoral Lobby spent the past six or so weeks pushing for the Coalition and the ALP to dig even deeper into Australia's coffers to ensure adequate funding is available for women's issues including their safety and well-being.

WEL says Labor and the Coalition are failing to do this and is urging everyone to vote from an "informed basis" to get the best outcome.

"WEL's assessment is if governments took them all seriously and heeded the voices of women, they could make decisions which would eventually lead to women's equality," WEL national convenor Jozefa Sobski told media this week.  

You only need look at the money we invest into preventing terrorism to see how far off the mark Mr Morrison and Mr Shorten are.

Terrorism attracts $7billion a year yet it has killed just six people in Australia over the past decade - and three of the dead people were perpetrators of the terror act.

Unfortunately, our political leaders continue to apply tiny bandaids to a profusely bleeding wound that costs our economy $21billion a year and kills 52 women, 25 kids and 12 men.

In the meantime, vulnerable Australians are falling through the cracks because the safety nets designed to catch them are tired, worn out, frayed and in desperate need of repair.  

But there is not enough money to fix them.

It takes great courage for people experiencing domestic violence to leave their abuser.

When they do make that decision, we must ensure they have safe places to go and that they will have the economic, legal and other supports they need to help them rebuild their lives.

If they do not have these things, chances are they will return to a relationship that may ultimately kill them. 

News Corp journalist Sherele Moody is the recipient of the 2018 B&T Women in Media Social Change Maker Award and has multiple Clarion and Walkley Our Watch journalism excellence awards for her work highlighting violence against women and children. She is also the founder of The RED HEART Campaign and the creator of the Australian Femicide & Child Death Map. 

*For 24-hour domestic violence support phone the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732.