Back to All News

Senate Estimates: Cuts and funding uncertainty for DV services

Video & Multimedia
Larissa Waters 26 Feb 2015

Senator WATERS: Thank you; I will await that. Can you tell me whether you are aware of the fact that women's shelters and domestic violence and family violence services have been losing experienced staff as a result of funding uncertainty at the federal level and the funding cuts to community legal centres?

Ms McKenzie: As we have discussed at other times, any purported funding cuts to community legal centres really needs to be raised with the Attorney-General's Department as the funding body. I must say that, at this stage, I have not been made aware that there is any specific funding that has been taken off any specific organisation.

Senator WATERS: I will rephrase that and give you a chance to clarify that remark. Given the abolition of NRAS—the affordable housing scheme—and the changes to NPAH in that it is only being extended by 12 months even though it was five year program originally, the information that we are receiving through other channels—namely, a Senate inquiry—and service providers is that, because they do not have funding certainty, they are losing staff because there is no job security. Is that something you were aware of?

Ms McKenzie: I was talking about the community legal centres.

Senator WATERS: Okay. Leaving that aside, because you have said that is not your bag, on the homelessness and housing issues and therefore the DV services in the housing sense. Are you aware of the loss of experienced staff in those services?

Ms McKenzie: I cannot say that I am aware of the loss of experienced staff. I can say that, as I understand it, the government is considering the ongoing funding of NPAH and NAHA.

Senator WATERS: I am sure they are considering the funding, but I am—

Ms McKenzie: Our housing colleagues may well—

Mr Pratt: Yes, we discussed this in outcome 4.

Senator WATERS: Sure. But I am interested in the state of knowledge of the people responsible for implementing the plan.

Ms McKenzie: Yes.

Senator WATERS: Just to confirm that you said you are not aware of the staff drain that is happening at the moment in DV shelters and other DV services?

Ms McKenzie: I am certainly aware that there have been staff movements across a range of women's services for quite some time. There have been changes at the state government level and changes that have been introduced in terms of their changed arrangements for how the services work. There is a whole heap of things that are happening.

Senator WATERS: Sure. That has obviously intensified quite significantly in the last little while. Is that something that you would have expected to have been brought to your attention or is that not normally something you would be informed of?

Ms McKenzie: It would be more—

Ms Bennett: We do not necessarily know exactly community organisations' individual staffing arrangements—the issue was raised with deputy secretary Felicity Hand over some of these issues. There is a broader picture about the part of the action plan and the role of the Commonwealth which looks more about outcomes; our cooperation with the states; the connection—as Ms McKenzie said—with Attorney-General's. I do not think it would be reasonable to expect that we would know what was happening in a particular women's organisations on the staffing plans and movement at that intimate level. What Ms McKenzie's area and Ms Laffan do—

Senator WATERS: I agree that you should not have to know every particular staff departure in every single organisation but there does seem to be a very clear trend. Given the plan is about outcomes, as you say, the ability to deliver those outcomes is being much reduced by the brain drain on those services. I am actually quite alarmed that no-one has brought that to your attention.

Ms Bennett: That is a leap of information—

Mr Pratt: Also, the Commonwealth does not actually fund the services. We provide money—

Senator WATERS: You do through NPAH. The state dishes it out, but you are the kitty.

Mr Pratt: Sorry, if I can finish, Senator. We provide money to the states, which then contract with the services.

Senator WATERS: Yes, I am aware of that. 

Mr Pratt: We do not have a direct connection with the providers as the states do—

Senator WATERS: No, the funding uncertainty from the original money—

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: Can you just let the Secretary finish, Senator Waters. The secretary is trying to answer your question. Please do not interrupt him. Let him finish and they you can ask another question—it is pretty simple.

Mr Pratt: My points are that we do not have that direct connection in this area with the providers as we do in other areas, because our funding goes to the states who then contract with the services and fund the services. Also, as you are obviously aware, the government has yet to take a decision as to what it is going to do in relation to the NPAH, so that is up in the air. We went through the issues in quite some detail. We are very much aware of the issues which providers are going through. We have been through this a few times over the last few years, but we do not have direct connections with those providers; therefore we do not know what is happening with their staffing.

Senator WATERS: Thank you. I was aware of how the funding stream works, but I appreciate you taking the time to remind me of that. The very fact that the funding is uncertain is precisely why they are losing staff; hence my questions. You said you were very aware of the issues and yet Ms McKenzie said she was not aware of the issues. So I am a bit confused.

Mr Pratt: You are mixing two things. Ms McKenzie was making it quite clear that she is not receiving direct feedback around staffing issues for providers. What I am saying is that we are aware that providers are looking forward to getting advice as to where things are heading. We are aware, at a general level, about the issues that providers are concerned about.

Senator WATERS: Sure, but as it relates to the ability of the Commonwealth to deliver on the outcomes it is committed to in the national plan, would you normally expect to be aware of the mass exodus of staff that is facing DV services?

Ms Bennett: We did the national action plans in partnership with the states and territories. We saw their parts and our bits and we shared information. As Ms McKenzie said, individual organisations do make a huge contribution, but what they are doing with their staff is a level of on the ground detail. We are focussed on talking and engaging about what the outcomes are, not whether there are two people fewer in this service or they have shifted their focus.

Senator WATERS: More than two people, I am afraid.

Ms Bennett: If you can provide the details, we can have a look at the information that you have got.

Senator WATERS: I do have a number of quotes here, but I am conscious of the time.

Ms Bennett: If you want to put them on notice.

Senator WATERS: It is all on the public record. If you are interested in following it up, that would be great. The vast evidence we have heard from a whole range of services in the Senate inquiry that has been on foot and remains on foot into domestic violence contains a wealth of very concerning statements. I encourage you if you have time—

Ms Bennett: We are watching that closely as well.

Senator WATERS: Coming to the plan's focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, I am conscious that the voices and perspectives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women need to be supported, listened to and reflected in that document. In terms of the advocacy and policy development and the involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, can you provide—perhaps on notice or here if you are able to in short—how they are being involved in that process and what funding commitments go along with that? My question is in the context specifically of the funding uncertainty for the family violence prevention legal service, which is currently seeking funds under the Indigenous Advancement Strategy, which we will take up in crossportfolio questioning tomorrow. That is the context of my question.

Ms McKenzie: There are a range of things that DSS is engaged in which are designed to assist Indigenous women who are experiencing violence. One of those is the expansion of the primary care line on 1800RESPECT. The primary organisation responsible at the Commonwealth level for actions to prevent violence against Indigenous women is the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and the Indigenous area there.

Senator WATERS: Sorry, I phrased my question very poorly, I acknowledge. I am interested in whether your position is that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women should be involved in advocacy and policy development as regards violence against women.

Ms McKenzie: We have certainly taken the attitude in the development of the national plan and in the ongoing running and operation of the national plan that involving women is a huge benefit to developing projects and deliverables that really work. We would fully support the engagement of Indigenous women in projects and work.

Senator WATERS: How are you fully supporting that? Is there any money that goes along with that?

Ms McKenzie: Let me explain it a little bit. One of the things that DSS has been particularly responsible for is the involvement of CALD, so women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. We have been out talking to CALD women, having what we call 'kitchen tables' across Australia, finding out what their views are. That has been our area of responsibility in terms of the three priority groups that were identified in the national plan. We are also talking to women with disability. The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet is the one that is taking forward the work with Indigenous women.

Senator WATERS: Is there any funding commitment that goes along with that, or will I have to take that up with PM&C?

Ms McKenzie: Take it up with PM&C.

Back to All News