The federal government used $20 million of the $150 million package to boost services including 1800RESPECT and MensLine, and establish the Help is Here information campaign.
Labor’s family violence spokeswoman Julie Collins wrote to Federal Minister for Women Marise Payne on July 3 asking when the rest of the $130 million would be spent, but received no response.
“Greater support and advocacy is needed now and over coming months,” Ms Collins said, calling for funding to flow “in a timely manner and without delays”.
Ms Foster said the sector’s warning that the coronavirus pandemic would result in a domestic violence spike had been met with scepticism by police. In April, NSW Police said there had been no increase; “then, we just had all of these horrendous homicides, one after the other”.
The Counting Dead Women project run by feminist group Destroy the Joint, which tracks deaths through family violence, has recorded 31 women who lost their lives since January, including nine killed in May.
Melbourne woman Elaine Pandilovski, 44, was found dead at her home in Mill Park on Tuesday. Her estranged husband has been charged with murder.
In Sydney, Liqun Pan, 19, died in an alleged murder-suicide attempt in Wolli Creek on June 28. Her boyfriend was placed in an induced coma after falling from the fourth floor of the apartment complex.
Research by the Australian Institute of Criminology published last week showed an “alarming” increase in family violence, including in homes where it had never occurred before, with almost one in 10 women in a relationship saying they experienced domestic violence during the coronavirus crisis.
Domestic Violence Victoria chief executive Alison McDonald said that, while the state’s sector was better funded than that in NSW thanks to reforms that emerged from the royal commission into violence against women, service providers were worried about the impact of Melbourne’s latest stage-three lockdown.
“Family violence thrives in isolation and at the moment everybody’s isolated,” she said.
“Men who use violence are weaponising the pandemic to further perpetuate power and control … It gives them an excuse to enforce that control.”
Being trapped at home with a violent or controlling family member made it tricky for people experiencing domestic violence to reach out over the phone, she said. The Victorian sector expected another spike when Melbourne came out of lockdown again.
Ms McDonald said the delaying of Victoria’s state’s budget until later this year had left the sector uncertain about whether it would have “sustainable, long term funding”.
“Normally, by midyear, we’d know what programs will continue to be funded,” she said.
After the recent bushfires had sparked their own disaster-linked domestic violence surge, Ms Foster said, NSW services that had not received a funding increase “for years” were already “under the pump” when COVID-19 lockdowns hit in March. Now, she said, “they are absolutely slammed.”
“It would be really good if we could take this stuff more seriously,” she said.
Ms Foster said the amount distributed so far to NSW service providers worked out to be an average $50,000 each, “less than one person’s salary”.
NSW lacked a statewide case management model for people accessing domestic violence services, she said, meaning that women were not always referred to the most appropriate help straight away and often had to retell their traumatic story many times over, leaving many to “fall through the cracks”.
“So many people don’t even know where to get support from, and when people do seek support, they’re not always getting put through to frontline services,” Ms Foster said.
NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman said the state government had been allocated $8.8 million of the initial Commonwealth funding, which it distributed to providers last week along with $12.8 million of state funding.
Victorian Minister for Prevention of Family Violence Gabrielle Williams said the state government had invested more than $40 million in funding to frontline services, in addition to the $6 million provided by the federal government.
Federal Minister for Families Anne Ruston said ensuring the safety of women and children experiencing or at risk of family violence was “an absolute priority for the Morrison government”.
“Of the $130 million for states and territories, $32.5 million has already been provided … A further $29.5 million will be provided in coming weeks and the allocation of the remaining $68.25 million will be agreed through the Women’s Safety Council by the end of September,” she said.
“We will continue to monitor the impacts of the pandemic and respond to emerging needs.”
❏ If you need support, phone 1800 RESPECT or reach out online, or contact Men’s Referral Service 1300 766 491 or Lifeline 13 11 14.
Dana is health and industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.