As safe as houses? Comparing Liberal and Labor platforms on women’s safety

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With the federal election campaign in its final days, people are heading to polling booths to vote in Australia’s next government. In today’s federal election series, Policy Whisperer Susan Maury (@susanmaury) and Laura Vidal (@lauraemilyvidal), both of Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand, break down the Government and Australian Labor Party’s policies for improving women’s safety, providing both a comparison between the platforms and commentary on how the plans fall short. Today’s piece on women’s safety is the second in a two-part series from the @GoodAdvocacy team. You can read Part 1 on economic security here.

Women’s safety

Australia has seen an unprecedented investment in addressing domestic and family violence from all political parties in the wake of the Royal Commission into Family Violence, which produced 8 volumes of documentation and 227 recommendations, and it is encouraging to see both the Liberal Party and the ALP highlight investment in wide-ranging responses. However, there appears to be little acknowledgement of how other government policies interact with experiences of family violence.

Liberal

In March the Government announced record funding to reduce domestic violence, with wide-ranging commitments, including $328 million for prevention and frontline services through the Fourth Action Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children. Whilst this contribution is significant, it remains comparatively low. The Victorian Government alone has already spent $1.9 billion, and has announced a further investment of $42.5 million.

For the first time the plan includes financial contributions across eight government departments, an increase from four. This is encouraging as it demonstrates an increased understanding of the intersectional nature of domestic and family violence, including the multiple layers of action that are required to address it. However, the package that has been announced does not include specific detail about how it will deliver the overall objective of the National Action Plan — sustained reduction in violence against women and their children — by 2022.

The range of initiatives are time-limited and largely focused on short-term outcomes. There is also an unequal funding distribution between ‘prevention’ and ‘frontline services’. Sustained change requires a significant investment in prevention which currently only attracts $68.3 million dollars (approximately 20 per cent of the whole) in funding over the course of the four-year plan. There is also no word on resourcing evaluation of current initiatives to measure their effectiveness on achieving the goals of the plan; rather, it appears to be a re-funding of existing initiatives, some established under the first iteration of the plan. Some aspects of the plan, notably the funding of couple’s counselling, have been criticised. Research-led policy must be a focus of efforts to end violence against women, and resources for the translation of this research into practical outcomes ought to be a feature of any plan setting out to achieve this goal.

Women’s safety is compromised by deficits in a range of policy areas, including housing.  Photo credit: Public Domain Pictures .

Women’s safety is compromised by deficits in a range of policy areas, including housing. Photo credit: Public Domain Pictures.

Further, the Liberal platform does not support the Raise the Rate Campaign. And while some changes to Welfare to Work policies have been announced following critical findings from inquiries into both jobactive and ParentsNext, the changes are relatively minor in nature. The low amount of income support combined with high rates of compliance and surveillance are major contributors to increasing women’s vulnerability (see for example here, here and here).

As part of their package of support targeted at domestic and family violence, the government have committed $2 million to the Office for Women “to support the development of strategies for the prevention of financial abuse”. While it is encouraging that financial abuse is recognised, the National Foundation for Australian Women’s assessment points out that the amount seems low for a national plan, and there is no detail on the investment’s link to tangible outputs. The Government has also committed to ensuring 5 unpaid leave days for people experiencing various forms of family violence, a measure which should assist with mitigating instances of economic abuse, which can include disrupting work schedules.

Labor

Labor has released a detailed statement on their plan to mitigate family violence. Housing considerations play a key role, including a doubling of 4th Action Plan funding for refuges and emergency accommodation, to $120 million, and an increase in transitional and affordable housing with an $88 million Safe Housing Fund and 250,000 new affordable homes. This is a critical recognition that a lack of safe and affordable housing options often mean women and children who are leaving violent relationships are at risk of homelessness. Turning to the needs of vulnerable women and children once they are past the crisis stage, more needs to be done to address affordability in the rental market and increasing state commitments to social housing. Labor has put forward a longer-term plan to improve housing affordability through phased-in changes to negative gearing and capital gains tax, which will also provide capital to support a 10-year plan to build 250,000 affordable new homes. Affordable rentals will also be encouraged with a “Build to Rent” initiative.

Other initiatives include establishing a $90 million Preventing Family Violence Legal Services Fund, to include more to community legal services; more for family violence prevention legal services, doubling the number of domestic/family violence health-justice partnerships, and expanding domestic/family violence courts and ensuring best practice in the courtroom setting. A further $2 million is earmarked to trial the Integrated Safety Response model, and $13.6 million is budgeted to respond to Forced Marriage – including overhauling responses to improve support for victims, funding prevention efforts, introducing Forced Marriage Protection Orders and establishing a Commonwealth Forced Marriage Unit.

Aimed at prevention, there is also $62 million dedicated to local community prevention and frontline service grants – including dedicated streams for Indigenous women, CALD women and LGBTIQ+ communities, and $35 million to support Respectful Relationships education in schools.

Labor is stronger in its commitment to address poverty as a driver of vulnerability, with the promise of a comprehensive review of the Newstart Allowance and related payments, and an overhaul of ParentsNext. It is difficult to assess the impact of these measures in the absence of any detail or firm commitment to an increase in income support payments for the most disadvantaged groups of women in the community – single parents and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.

The ALP have made several commitments associated with mitigating economic abuse, including ensuring there is national legal recognition of economic abuse, including dowry abuse; provision of 20,000 flexible support packages for survivors of up to $10,000 each; and ensuring up to 10 days of paid domestic/family violence leave.

As with Liberal commitments, it seems optimistic to expect that the overall amount in the package will achieve systemic change. However, it is a positive change that a more comprehensive approach to women’s safety is represented in the diversity of strategies represented in their plan.

Summary

Both the Liberal Party and the ALP have committed to record funding investments and the continuation of the National Action Plan to drive coordinated efforts in prevention, intervention and recovery. With the benchmark set by the Victorian Government’s response to the Royal Commission both parties still have a way to go; with intimate partner violence representing the biggest health risk factor for women aged 25-44, the single largest driver of women’s homelessness and a police call-out on average once every two minutes nationwide, turning the investment from millions into billions would be the logical next step. 

This post is part of the Women's Policy Action Tank initiative to analyse government policy using a gendered lens, and this piece is part of our Federal Election series 2019. Photo credit for the voter’s box in our logo: Flaticon. View our other policy analysis pieces here and follow us on Twitter @PolicyforWomen