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Budget 2015: How will the Budget tackle our domestic violence crisis?

Candles at a recent protest against domestic violence/ Image: Azal Khan
Candles at a recent protest against domestic violence/ Image: Azal Khan

A fortnight ago, 51-year-old Linda Locke from Quakers Hill in Sydney’s west was found in her home with head injuries, serious bruising to her face and a collapsed lung. She died shortly after in hospital.

Ms Locke's de facto partner Jamie Walker, 46, was arrested and charged with assault occasioning grievous harm. Police laid an additional charge of murder when he appeared in Penrith Local Court.

Last week community members, local police, domestic violence workers and council staff gathered in Blacktown in Sydney’s West on Monday in memory of her and the 33 other women who have died from violence this year in Australia.

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In Australia, domestic violence is the leading preventable cause of death for women under 45.

Blacktown State Labor MP John Robertson organised the candlelight vigil in the hope it will put domestic violence at the top of the public agenda.

“Two deaths a week is a disgrace. It really is a national crisis and something needs to be done," Robertson said.

“We need action. We need politicians on all sides to stand up.”

So is domestic violence on the Government’s radar?

Last year's Budget offered $28.5 million for the next two years to continue and expand 1800RESPECT to allow victims to access more counsellors, as well as committing $5.2 million over five years for the establishment and operation of the Foundation to Prevent Violence against Women and the Children.

However, Budget and pre-election rhetoric is not yet translating into action, as rates of domestic violence still continue to rise.

Research shows the murder rate in Australia has been falling for several years. But the rate of intimate partner related homicides has been rising.

There are young victims too, with more than a million children affected by domestic violence. Accounting for 40 per cent of police time, the cost to the economy is $13.6 billion per year.

The rising violence rates show that the time for discussion is over – the time to act is now.

And now only a day away, we look to this year’s Budget to deliver real change.

The upcoming Budget is expected to include funding of $230 million for two years to provide services for homeless people, with an emphasis on tackling domestic violence.

Homelessness and domestic violence go hand-in-hand, and soBudget decisions about homelessness, affordable housing problems and legal services will directly affect women.

63-year-old Len, a domestic violence survivor from Blacktown, was faced with homelessness after she decided to leave her violent and abusive husband.

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“My mum left for the Philippines so we sneaked into her unit without telling anyone. We left home with nothing. My daughter just had her bag and school uniform. I was dreading not being able to find accommodation I can afford,” she said.

Len says that the only way she could finally stop her husband from abusing her was by taking out an AVO.

“I kept on thinking that things would improve. All I wanted was a happy family.”

Women like Len are often left with nowhere to turn and no accommodation options, and the support of government-funded community services is vital.

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But recent government action on combating domestic violence has been mixed.

In February this year, Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced the creation of an advisory panel to prevent violence against women.

Led by Australian of the Year Rosie Batty and former Victorian police chief Ken Lay, the panel was fortified by a $100 million commitment to roll out a national action plan over the next four years.

Although domestic violence campaigners welcomed the move, it came on the back of 2014 funding cuts that affected peak bodies and key service providers.

And critics say that where the Abbott Government has given with one hand, it has taken with the other.

Despite pledging $30 million on a national awareness campaign against domestic violence, the Abbott Government has cut funding for gender inequality awareness programs in schools.

A vital domestic violence education program and support service will close after Social Services Minister Scott Morrison announced last week that its funding will be axed. The award-winning program, based in coastal NSW, raises awareness and educates school students about domestic abuse and healthy relationships.

The cuts come a week after Prime Minister Toby Abbott vowed to make domestic violence a top priority at the Council of Australian Government's (COAG) meeting.

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The program is one of hundreds facing the chop due to the $271 million cut to social service grants, announced by the Federal Government last year.

Deborah Lee, Domestic Violence Officer at Blacktown Police, says that cultural change needs to happen through schools.

“We can never actually stop domestic violence but we can raise awareness and educate. Education in our schools is what we need for young people. Learning what a healthy relationship is, what is and isn’t ok in a relationship,” Officer Lee said at the vigil.

Meanwhile Robertson has called for more resources in this area right across the state.

As well as reinstating funding for women’s only refuges, Robertson says specialist domestic violence courts should be established in NSW.

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“We need courts that specifically deal with these issues sensitively for the victims who have had the courage to come forward.”

Robertson believes more funding is needed for domestic violence officers in police stations to support officers working outside of normal hours to help women in need.

So we will have to wait and see until next week when the Budget is announced whether the PM for women plans to deliver a Budget for women.

If last year’s Budget is anything to go by, this years Federal Budget will affect the most vulnerable in our community.

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