Coalition brands streetlights as a spend "for women"

In Estimates, Abigail grilled the Minister for Women's Safety and the Prevention of Domestic Violence about why the Coalition is refusing to fund vital frontline support services that would actually make a difference for women. 

Abigail demanded answers as to why the Minister is only partially funding the vital Illawarra Women's Trauma Centre...

The CHAIR: Minister, I've spoken with you many times about the Illawarra Women's Trauma Recovery Centre. As I'm sure you know, they were very pleased to get $25 million in funding from the Federal Government, which covers the operating costs of that centre. But they still need money for the land so that they can have somewhere to operate out of. They've been asking the State Government for a very long time. Why was that not included in the budget?

The Hon. NATALIE WARD: You quite rightly recognise an innovative program. I did meet with them in Parliament, as did Minister Hazzard. So I've met with them and also spoken with you directly about that. I understand that they have sought funding for the land. NSW Health has provided $50,000 to them to support them to develop a business case.

The CHAIR: That was last year. They've already had that.

The Hon. NATALIE WARD: Yes.

The CHAIR: They redid the business case. They put it in and then the Government has ignored it.

The Hon. NATALIE WARD: I don't think that's fair. The Commonwealth budget, obviously—

The CHAIR: A year ago.

The Hon. NATALIE WARD: I can't comment on this year's budget in relation to decisions made by the ERC. Those decisions have been made by the Expenditure Review Committee, in relation to that part of your question. I note that they are seeking further funding to build that building. Minister Hazzard has written to our Federal counterpart following our meetings with them regarding the capital components of the proposal to see if there's opportunity for part of that to pivot to services as well. So we have made those representations. I understand that we await the Federal Government response. I welcome the opportunity to work with our Federal colleagues to try to see if we can progress that.

The CHAIR: Can I clarify that? So you're saying that instead of the New South Wales Government providing the funding for the centre to be able to operate, the State Government has asked the Federal Government to instead divide its amount up so that it can pay for the buildings and the operating costs, thereby leaving the centre pretty much worse off?

The Hon. NATALIE WARD: No. We have met with them. We have advocated for that and funding has been provided for the business case. So we are committed to providing support. That has been done through Minister Hazzard. We have advocated with our Federal counterparts for some of that capital funding to be available for service provision.

The CHAIR: I don't think you understand the—no, I take that back.

The Hon. NATALIE WARD: We're waiting to hear back from them, Ms Boyd. They're ongoing discussions.

The CHAIR: You keep referring to the business case, which is old news. It was two years ago.

The Hon. NATALIE WARD: But that was provided by the State Government.

The CHAIR: They were asking for funding for the operating costs and the building costs. They did that. They got the $50,000. They provided the business case, as required. They had the support of local universities. They've got the support of all the things. They put that in. They didn't hear back for ages. We've had this in budget estimates over and over—admittedly, when you weren't the Minister in charge of this particular area. But, let me assure you, we had all of that. They waited for a very long time. Finally, the Federal Government stepped in and gave them a $25 million funding guarantee over five years.

The Hon. NATALIE WARD: Yes.

The CHAIR: The sector was delighted. Then they came to the State Government and said, "Great. We've got this. Can we just have the money for the building? We've got this great, wonderful situation where we've got somebody to hold on to a particular site for us at a particular price. We just need that funding. Instead of you advocating for it in the budget, you've written to the Federal counterparts to get them to instead split that funding so that now it won't go for five years because some of it will be used for a building. Is that correct?

The Hon. NATALIE WARD: In relation to the past budget expenditure review process, I can't comment on that. It's obviously Cabinet in confidence. What I can say is there is a number of competing interests in this area for funding. What was funded was $700 million of funding for services. It's important that we continue that. I will always advocate for more funding; that is my job. I don't think it's any surprise that I will be vigilant about that, but I can't talk about the decision-making of the ERC process. What I can talk about are the steps that are being taken. There are always competing interests in this area.

 

 

Abigail then grilled the Minister about the Coalition's branding of streetlights as a spend for women (when it's really a spend for everyone)...

The CHAIR: Did you advocate for the $30 million in streetlights that went into the budget?

The Hon. NATALIE WARD: Safer cities—are you referring to the Safer Cities Program?

The CHAIR: The $30 million for anti-street harassment infrastructure, which I understand is effectively streetlights that should have been funded by Infrastructure rather than through—

The Hon. NATALIE WARD: I wouldn't be dismissive of that work. I think it's important work, particularly where it was launched in Parramatta, where there was a murder of a woman in that particular park where lighting and CCTV would have potentially prevented that homicide. Nonetheless, Safer Cities is an excellent program supporting CCTV and lighting in areas to make safer areas for women. Nonetheless, that work has been—

The CHAIR: Sorry, let me stop you there. The idea that streetlights are somehow all about safety for women, as opposed to safety for people in general, that is not an evidence-based assertion. It is not something that the DV sector was calling out for. Of course we need streetlights, but that's an Infrastructure issue. Why has that been dressed up as being about women's safety when, at the same time, we're not funding something as groundbreaking as the Illawarra trauma centre?

The Hon. NATALIE WARD: Ms Boyd, that work was being led by Minister Stokes as part of the cities and communities infrastructure work, so you would have to ask—

The CHAIR: You would think it would then be an Infrastructure spend rather than a spend for women.

The Hon. NATALIE WARD: It was led by Minister Stokes.

The CHAIR: What's your view on the way that was presented in the budget in terms of it reinforcing the idea that women are most at risk when they are out on the streets, as opposed to at home, where we know that the most women are actually killed by their current or former partner?

The Hon. NATALIE WARD: Ms Boyd, my personal view is that whatever we can be doing to prevent further violence towards women, we should be doing. There's a range of initiatives across government to do so. We have heard from women that they don't feel safe at night walking through a dark park where there was previously a homicide.

The CHAIR: But your Government—

The Hon. NATALIE WARD: Whatever we can do to assist and provide additional support and safer areas to make communities—what is, during the day, a beautiful park, where I saw people—

The CHAIR: Your Government made a choice—

The Hon. NATALIE WARD: —riding and cycling and walking—

The CHAIR: —to fund streetlights and to dress it up as something for women, as opposed to people in general, and made the choice not to fund a trauma centre that would help thousands of women get back on their feet after having been victim-survivors of domestic violence. That was a choice.

The Hon. NATALIE WARD: There are a lot of competing interests and budget processes to make choices. I wasn't part of the ERC decision; I can't comment on it. What I can say is I am an advocate for the sector. In doing so, the women's economic review, headed by Sam Mostyn, heard that women were catching taxis 500 metres down the road from the train station because they didn't feel safe walking through a park. Whatever we can do to support women in their communities to not have to catch a taxi home because of a dark park at night is an excellent initiative. I don't think it's about comparing one to the other.

The CHAIR: I'm glad you raised that because that group of people that was put together for the purpose of working out how to—I don't know, they came up with streetlights and whatever else they came out with. Why do you think that group of people was put together instead of the Treasurer listening directly to experts in the sector who have been calling out consistently for funding for particular things for the past 20, 30 and 40 years? Why did we not listen to them and instead put together a hand-picked group of people who then came out with Streetlights?

The Hon. NATALIE WARD: This is a budget that is focused on women. It is absolutely focused on listening to women and ensuring that we prioritise programs. I am sorry, but I think that supporting lighting for women is an important component. Please tell me that you're not saying that's not important.

The CHAIR: Supporting lighting for human beings.

The Hon. NATALIE WARD: Yes, for safer places—

The CHAIR: So it's an infrastructure component. When we build a new road, we build new lights. The idea that then we've made it unsafe—

The Hon. NATALIE WARD: Because we know sexual assaults can occur in those circumstances, and we want to prevent them.

The CHAIR: So because we've made a road unsafe by not putting the lights in the first place and because women are disproportionately less safe than men—

The Hon. NATALIE WARD: Ms Boyd, that's a philosophical policy discussion.

The CHAIR: —we therefore, when we fix that infrastructure problem, decide that it's for women.

The Hon. NATALIE WARD: I think we can walk and chew gum. I think it's important that we find ways to provide safer cities, safer workplaces, safer opportunities for women to come forward—

The CHAIR: But you're not walking and chewing gum because you are funding those things and failing to fund the really vital things that the—

The Hon. NATALIE WARD: Women walking home at night, and we heard that they are catching taxis, Ms Boyd. I don't think it's fair to characterise that as less important or more important. I think it's important that, as a government, we listen to communities.

The CHAIR: No, I'm just not characterising this is something for women.

The Hon. NATALIE WARD: That's exactly what was done through their economic participation work.

The CHAIR: Okay. So we're not going to fund, presumably, then, the Illawarra Women's Trauma Recovery Centre. Is that what you're saying—that's not going to happen because we're waiting for the Federal funding?

The Hon. NATALIE WARD: Ms Boyd, that's not my evidence to the Committee. My evidence is the work that has been done so far, the advocacy that has been done by Minister Hazzard and I to speak to our Federal counterparts—I will always be an advocate in the next budget process for more funding. I have met with the Illawarra women's trauma centre. I am keen to understand how we can assist them. I'm always there to try and be a strong advocate, with a number of competing interests in the budget process. That's my job. That's what I'm clear about.

The CHAIR: What message do you think it sends to women when we put the portfolio of prevention of domestic violence and sexual assault in with Metropolitan Roads to the same Minister?

The Hon. NATALIE WARD: That you have a capable Minister that is doing her darndest to try and make people of New South Wales—improve the lives of people in New South Wales, and we have record funding to back in both portfolios.

The CHAIR: Would you have preferred to have just had one of those portfolios?

The Hon. NATALIE WARD: That's not a matter for me. I don't make those decisions.

 

You can read the full transcript here.

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