Labor under pressure over domestic violence for May budget

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The government is remaining tight lipped on what else it might do in this month’s federal budget to address domestic violence, as it comes under increasing pressure to deliver on existing promises.

National cabinet this week agreed to extend the $5000 grant to help people leave domestic violence, but advocates are disappointed governments have not done more to address critical front line shortages.

Finance Minister Katy Gallagher, who is also the Women’s Minister, conceded on Sunday that she believed only 30 of the 500 frontline domestic violence workers promised by Labor have so far been recruited.

She said the onus was on states to get that number up, and was hopeful that figure would significantly climb in the coming months.

“They’ve signed on to agreement to have the vast majority of them employed in the first half of this year, but they are saying that staff and recruiting staff is an issue,” she told ABC’s Insiders.

In 2022, the government pledged $169m over four years to fund 500 new frontline workers who assist people experiencing domestic, family or sexual violence, to be recruited by the states.

During the week, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese struggled to put a figure on how many of the workers were currently on the ground.

On the back of Senator Gallagher’s revelation, Deputy Opposition Leader Sussan Ley said it was “just not good enough” that Labor couldn’t deliver on the promises it had made.

“This is not good enough. When were these numbers last interrogated by the Minister for Women and why isn’t she asking for updates every single day?” she said in a statement with Kerrynne Liddle, the Coalition spokesperson for prevention of family violence.

“It is the PM himself who made the promise and therefore it is his government’s responsibility to deliver on it – not blame the states and territories.

“Labor must address the family violence crisis by delivering what was promised and with more measures in the upcoming Budget that change this terrible trajectory.”

The current agreement is set to expire in June.

Elsewhere, the Greens are calling on the government to “get serious” about women’s safety by doubling the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement funding to $3.6bn annually.

Greens’ housing spokesman Max Chandler-Mather pointed to recent government data that more than 96 per cent of people who needed long-term housing after fleeing violence had been denied, describing it as a “national disgrace”.

“Doubling housing and homelessness funding would help ensure every woman escaping domestic violence receives accommodation and support, it’s as simple as that,” Mr Chandler-Mather said.

“If Labor can find $50 billion in the budget for extra military spending over the next decade then surely they can find at least $40 billion over a decade to ensure housing and homelessness services have what they need to house and help every woman fleeing domestic violence.”

Senator Gallagher said it was easy for the Greens to call for a funding increase because they didn’t have to balance a budget.

“The Greens say you should double everything. The Greens don’t have to run a budget,” she said.

“The budget has a lot of pressure on it. We try to do what we can every budget, and we think about these decisions deeply, and then we come up with what’s possible.”

She said the government was currently negotiating the upcoming agreement with the states.

Senator Gallagher also remained tight lipped over whether the government would increase single parenting payments or rent assistance, as social services agencies have been calling for.

She said the government had raised the single parenting payment in the last budget and “expanded the access” to the payment “specifically in response to some of the work that was done around women experiencing violence and limiting choices about how they leave”.

“I think the Treasurer and I have made it clear, and the Prime Minister, that every budget, we have a look at what we can do with the payment system to make sure that we are providing as much support as we can to people who need that extra help,” she said.

She said the government was targeting economic equality for women.

“Part of the answer is payment system, part of it is how we address gender equality and gender pay gaps more broadly,” she said.

“There’s a whole-of-government response to these issues. It’s not just one thing.”

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