Anglican agencies welcome Victorian Budget's $1.9 billion commitment to end family violence

Anglicare Victoria and the Brotherhood of St Laurence back the State Budget's emphasis on helping vulnerable families

Family violence was ''a national emergency that destroys too many lives, that has been underfunded for far too long'', Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas told Parliament as he delivered his third Budget.

By Mark Brolly

May 4 2017Anglican agencies have welcomed the Victorian Budget’s focus on vulnerable children and families, particularly the $1.9 billion over four years to implement all the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Family Violence.

Anglicare Victoria Chief Executive Mr Paul McDonald said the measures would make a big difference to victims and save lives.

“I am pleased to see that this year’s State Budget has given proper considerations for vulnerable children and families,” Mr McDonald said. “It is especially heartening to see this Government’s commitment to ending family violence and improving the experience for children in out-of-home-care.

“The funding for family violence victims is a crucial step in the right direction to ensuring parents and children leaving family violence have access to dedicated, safe and affordable housing.”

The Brotherhood of St Laurence, whose Executive Director Mr Tony Nicholson was one of three commissioners of Victoria’s Royal Commission into Family Violence in 2015-16, also welcomed the emphasis put on tackling family violence.

The three-member Royal Commission – chaired by a former judge of the Court of Appeal, the Honourable Marcia Neave – delivered its 1900-page report in March last year and made 227 recommendations. Mr Nicholson’s fellow Deputy Commissioner was Ms Patricia Faulkner, the Chair of Jesuit Social Services and Deputy Chair of St Vincent’s Health Australia, who formerly served as Chair of the Prime Minister’s Social Inclusion Board and Secretary of the Victorian Department of Human Services.

“Family violence overwhelmingly impacts women and children, and is a key driver of intergenerational disadvantage,” a Brotherhood statement issued on the day of the Budget, 2 May, said.

“In a departure from the way law and order debates are usually framed, Premier (Daniel) Andrews has applied a social lens to family violence by describing it as ‘Australia's number one law and order issue’.

“This thinking could be extended to the vexed area of community safety, which also emerges as a key funding priority in this budget, and includes a record $2 billion boost for police.”

Anglicare’s Mr McDonald praised provisions including:

  • $448.1 million to establish 17 Support and Safety Hubs for victims of family violence, which will link victim survivors and their children to the support and services they need, as well as providing greater opportunities for collaboration across the community sector;
  • $133.2 million for housing for victims, including completion of family violence refuges for victims;
  • $59.6 million for an extra 1982 out-of-home care placements and 100 more targeted care packages to reduce the number of children living in residential care and protect Victoria’s most vulnerable children; and
  • $133.2 million for long-term housing, rental assistance and additional public housing.

Anglicare Victoria recently released its annual Rental Affordability Snapshot, which showed the significant strain put on low-income households to find suitable and affordable accommodation.

Mr McDonald said the inclusion of optional long-term leases for tenants would provide some security to those most in need.

“It is good to see an extra 2200 new social housing places over the next five years, as well as providing tenants a new optional standard long-term lease,” he said.

“These are effective solutions to the problems we’ve been seeing lately in Victoria, particularly in regards to renters on low incomes struggling to secure affordable rental accommodation.”

The Brotherhood said building capability and creating opportunity for the most disadvantaged people in the community must be a priority in any budget that aspired to meet the test of equity and fairness.

Professor Shelley Mallett, General Manager of the Brotherhood's Research and Policy Centre, said: “We need to carefully balance the investments we make to secure community safety with our efforts to prevent the root causes of offending. The challenge of youth justice, for example, should not be seen outside its social context.

“Young people's offending and antisocial behaviour cannot be considered in isolation from their broader life experiences. Most early offenders have left school early, been in the child protection system or experienced homelessness.”

Professor Mallett said that with Victoria's youth unemployment exceeding 13 per cent, and with even higher rates in outer suburbs and regional areas, there was more work for the State Government to do to boost the prospects of disadvantaged youth.

The Brotherhood welcomed the priority given in the Budget to regional infrastructure and economic development projects outside Melbourne.

“To really tackle poverty and disadvantage, we need to invest in disadvantaged people and the places they live in,” Professor Mallett said. “These communities often have poor services and public transport and very limited job opportunities. The new budget initiatives pave the way for more investment.”

Delivering his third Budget to Parliament, Victorian Treasurer Mr Tim Pallas said family violence was “a national emergency that destroys too many lives, that has been underfunded for far too long”.

“As former Australian of the Year Rosie Batty said: ‘Family violence may happen behind closed doors but it needs to be brought out from these shadows and into broad daylight’,” Mr Pallas said.

He said the $1.9 billion allocated to tackle family violence would be spent on services including after-hours crisis support, financial counselling and therapeutic support, including for children and Aboriginal victims; building long-term public housing and modernising and expanding crisis accommodation; and setting up specialist family violence courts at the Ballarat, Frankston, Shepparton, Moorabbin and Heidelberg Magistrates’ courts.

Mr Pallas said $132 million would be spent to protect vulnerable children, “many of whom have experienced or witnessed family violence”.

“We’ll give those who have been embroiled in family violence a chance – a chance to overcome physical, financial and emotional trauma. A chance to start anew.”

Opposition Leader Mr Matthew Guy told the ABC that law and order was the biggest issue facing the state and the Budget was a missed opportunity.

"We want to get tough on family violence," he said.

"One of the best things we can do is put those repeat family violence offenders behind bars on a mandatory sentencing regime."

The Age reported that, on being asked whether he saw family violence as a law-and-order issue, Mr Guy said: “The whole state is going through a crime wave; I see family violence as one part of that.”