I didn’t vote in the last State election, despite being eligible (and legally obliged) to do so. Faced with a corrupt Labor incumbent and a heartless Liberal challenger, I didn’t think it mattered much who won.
It did. Last year, the State Government announced a package of reforms to homelessness services and women’s refuges in NSW. The reforms were complicated and confusing, wrapped up in the corporate jargon of consolidation and tendering and efficiency.
The reforms have severely compromised the support services available to those fleeing domestic violence. Some women’s shelters lost their funding altogether and were forced to close their doors. Many more had their management transferred from specialist providers to large, faith-based charities with limited expertise. And most of the shelters that remain are open only on the condition that they service all homeless people in their area. According to one estimate, the number of women’s-only refuges across the state has fallen from 100 to 14.
‘Women-only’ refuges aren’t the only specialist services to disappear. We also lost services that catered to women on the margins: those who are Indigenous, culturally or linguistically diverse, queer, transgender.
The NSW government called its package of reforms ‘Going Home Staying Home’. When it comes to victims of domestic violence, the name seems depressingly apt.
Unfortunately, the Baird government’s ‘reforms’ coincided with federal cuts to legal assistance—Abbott’s government cut $15 million from the legal aid budget in 2014-15 alone. This will disproportionately hurt victims of domestic violence, who may require legal assistance to file Apprehended Violence Orders, or contest family law disputes.
It is deeply disheartening that State and Federal governments can cut these vital services with apparent ease. It also hints at a deeper social apathy towards the victims of family violence.
In this week’s Honi, we hope to draw your attention to an issue that deserves more airtime. Turn to page 14, and read Astha Rajvanshi’s feature on experiences of domestic violence on campus. Be sure to read the first hand accounts of family violence from five remarkable women who have shared their experiences. On page 17, hear from two women who worked as domestic violence crisis counsellors.
Like the State election, articles in student publications are not always talked about. However, chances are that the issues at the heart of both will have affected, or will affect, you or the people close to you.