NSW Upper House passes Greens motion calling for a dramatic uplift in government funding for domestic and family violence services

Today, the NSW Upper House passed Abigail's motion calling for a dramatic increase in government funding for domestic and family violence services and programs! This is a significant moment, with all sides of politics agreeing that we won’t begin to effectively address the domestic and family violence crisis in our state without the NSW government finally committing far higher levels of funding to the sector.

Abigail moved:

  1. That this House notes that:
  • NSW domestic and family violence services have been funded at levels significantly below demand for decades and that measures to prevent, respond to and aid recovery from domestic and family violence have not received adequate funding from government;
  • the levels of funding provided by the NSW Government for domestic and family violence services and programs has significantly lagged behind that spent in Victoria, including:
    • in the 2020-21 Budget, the NSW Government committed $160.5 million compared to $435.7 million dollars by the Victorian Government;
    • in the 2021-22 Budget, the NSW Government committed $204.9 million compared to $582.6 million in Victoria;
    • in the 2022-23 Budget, the NSW Government committed $262.7 million compared to $613 million in Victoria; and
    • the NSW Labor Government’s 2023-24 Budget delivered only $39.1 million in new funding overall for domestic, family and sexual violence initiatives compared to at least $77 million of new funding in Victoria; and
  • in its 2023-24 budget submission, Domestic Violence NSW (DVNSW) called for an annual funding increase of $176.35 million, to which the NSW Labor Government responded by providing barely 20% of that recommended amount.

(2) That this House further notes that:

  • the NSW Women’s Alliance, a coalition of peak organisations and state-wide specialist service providers with expertise in preventing and responding to sexual, domestic and family violence and chaired by DVNSW, put forward a comprehensive plan for responding to domestic and family violence in the lead up to both the 2019 and 2023 state elections;
  • DVNSW, the peak body for specialist domestic and family violence services in NSW, representing over 170 member organisations, prepares a budget submission each year as part of the NSW Budget process, setting out priorities for funding and other reform;
  • together the domestic and family violence sector in NSW, including victim-survivors, frontline workers and other experts, has been providing specialist advice to the NSW Government for decades, setting out in detail the measures and funding required to be implemented to tackle domestic and family violence and increase the safety and wellbeing of women and children in NSW; and
  • successive NSW governments have failed to heed the domestic and family violence sector’s calls for greater long-term secure funding, leaving the sector in crisis with demand for services unable to be met, workers leaving the sector for less precarious and better paid roles, and victim-survivors being unable to find safe shelter or resources to rebuild their lives.   

(3) That this House notes that, ahead of the 2024-25 budget, DVNSW has called for measures including:

  • a funding increase of $145 million annually for existing domestic and family violence services to meet current demand;
  • an additional $80 million annually to expand specialist services to respond directly to women, children and young people impacted by domestic and family violence, so nobody seeking assistance ever needs to be turned away;
  • $100 million over the next four years to stop the violence before it starts by releasing, funding, and implementing the NSW Strategy for the Prevention of Domestic, Family and Sexual Violence 2024-2027;
  • the immediate construction of 7,500 new social and affordable homes in NSW each year for 20 years and an exit pathway out of crisis refuges by building an additional transitional homes for women, children and young people; and
  • an increase to the core funding of DVNSW and additional funding to assist it in its support and advisory functions.

(4) That this House further notes that:

  • the NSW Government’s recently announced so-called ‘emergency package’ provides funding of $230 million over four years, which is less than a quarter of what the domestic and family violence sector has been calling for; and
  • even including the recently announced funding, NSW will still be funding domestic and family violence responses at between half and two thirds of what is provided by the Victorian Government.

(5) That this House calls on the NSW Labor Government to commit to providing funding to tackle the domestic and family violence crisis at a level at least comparable to the Victorian Government.

 

Recently I spoke in this House about how the movement to end violence against women takes form in waves—usually sparked by a high-profile domestic homicide or instance of assault that ignites the public's attention, fuelled on by media and political commentary, pushing us a few steps forward towards progress before the wave of attention recedes. We saw it after Rosie Batty gave her incredible speech on her doorstep over 10 years ago, leading to the royal commission and transformative reforms in Victoria. We saw it again with the shocking deaths of Olga Edwards, Preethi Reddy and Hannah Clarke between mid-2018 and early 2020, which resulted in a greater awareness of coercive control and attempts to legislate it across the country. We are seeing it again now, as the community is left reeling from the recent high-profile murders of women, including Lilie James and Molly Ticehurst, leading once again to pressure on governments to finally take the action needed to stop these preventable deaths from happening again and again, as many as one every four days.

Those of us who have been advocating in this space seized on these waves of attention to push extra hard for the reforms and funding that we know is required but which at all other times governments are simply unwilling to view as a priority. On the top of that public wave of concern, the voices of victim-survivors, frontline workers and other experts are amplified for a time. But below the surface, below the waves, nothing has changed. There has been no significant change in the rates of domestic homicide in New South Wales—just women continuing to die at the hands of their current or former partner at a depressingly relatively stable rate. From time to time, there have been spikes in rates of domestic and family violence incidents, but, again, there has been no great change in what we are seeing here—just a change in focus from the public, the media and politicians. We would be mistaken to think that some new development has been going on—something that makes a marked difference in driving men when they kill women. Rather, the same issues are driving this problem, albeit taking different forms—for example, as society embraces new technologies.

What can we do? What would actually make a difference? Again, the solutions are not new. They are the same solutions that victim-survivors, frontline workers and other experts have been diligently calling for for decades, but what needs to be new in New South Wales is the Government's willingness to fund those solutions. We need only look across the border to see what happens when we actually do fund those evidence‑based programs and services. It was not the royal commission that made the difference in Victoria. It was that they implemented all 227 of the recommendations handed down by that commission, backed up by funding greater than that of all of the other States and Territories combined. They took the issue seriously, and they followed through with a transformative level of funding. It is still relatively early days, but already Victoria is showing us what impact sufficient funding has on turning this issue around.

As the Treasurer noted yesterday, Victoria's reduction in domestic and family violence [DFV] incidents has been notable. Although a crude way to measure these things, certainly fewer women are being murdered in domestic homicides in Victoria now. I have been fortunate enough to spend time talking with domestic and family violence services on the border in Albury-Wodonga. As my colleague Dr Amanda Cohn mentioned yesterday, the experience of victim-survivors with a Victorian postcode is vastly different to those with a New South Wales postcode. The Orange Door support and safety hubs—the one-stop shop or "no wrong door" model—has made such a huge difference in Victoria, allowing women and children to find the safety that they need as well as the services to support them. Compared that with the experience of those in New South Wales, who are forced to navigate a poorly funded, overworked and complex set of services, the difference is striking.

Victoria is not perfect, and, of course, so much more still needs to be done. But already we can clearly see what improvements can be made when a government is willing to listen to the expert recommendations and commit to properly funding them. As I commented earlier today, we are lucky to have an incredibly talented expert group of victim-survivors, frontline workers and advocates in New South Wales, who have been tirelessly advising government for decades and who know exactly what to do with the huge uplift in funding needed to turn this issue around. We just need to provide it. Monday's announcement did have a small amount of additional funding. As has been acknowledged across the political spectrum, that is a good start, but it is nowhere near enough. This motion today is setting out the type of funding that we must aspire to and get much, much closer to the levels in Victoria. If we do that, lo and behold, we are likely to also begin to see improvement in the rates of domestic and family violence in this State.

Other Members of Parliament then spoke in support of the motion, with the inclusion of some amendments from the Government, to which Abigail responded:

In reply: I thank all of the members who contributed to debate today. I will turn to the Government's proposed amendments. I am happy to agree to those. I welcome that we have reached the point where we are acknowledging the historical underfunding—for whatever reasons—of domestic and family violence services. We are also acknowledging that, in amongst everything else that is required, one of the critical components is an increase in that funding to an amount much closer to what Victoria spends. Yesterday during question time, I asked the Treasurer to provide a detailed line item in each budget that tells us exactly how much is going to those services and breaks that down for us.As I mentioned then, the sector has had a history of not understanding what that amount is, not being able to track it, not being able to adequately assess whether it has been used in an effective way et cetera.

We really need to see that. I acknowledge what the Hon. Natalie Ward said about comparing like with like. The figures for New South Wales and Victoria in the motion were the ones that the NSW Council of Social Service believed were like for like, which is why there was not a figure for the 2023‑24 year. I am happy to accept what the Government has provided for that, but it underscores the problem. It is almost impossible to work out how much is being spent. But what we can agree on is that a lot less has been spent in New South Wales than in Victoria. I welcome that cross-party agreement. I note that the sector is exhausted, because not only has it been dealing with the crisis with significant underfunding for a very long time; it has also felt that it has not gotten anywhere with government. It has been speaking out loudly for so long and not been listened to.

As we move forward, I hope that there is a new approach of listening to the experts in the sector. I ask the Government to be gentle and to be as open and transparent as possible with the sector, particularly when it comes to funding, so that we can rebuild that bond between the Government and the sector as time goes on, because that is critical. I would just add a note of warning for the Treasurer. I know that putting the budget together is top of mind for him. We need to apply a whole‑of‑government approach, and we need to cast a critical lens across all of the items of spending because cutting spending in a particular area could inadvertently lead to women being less safe, for example, if we were to cut the RSPCA inspector budgets or something like that, given the links between domestic violence and animal abuse. On that note, I thank all members again and commend the motion to the House.

The motion was then voted on, with all sides of the chamber voting in support, and the motion passed successfully!

Read the full transcript in Hansard here.

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