Australia’s shameful billion-dollar secret

Bianca Hartge-Hazelman, Financy
·Contributor
·4-min read
Exhausted frightened woman showing stop sign, female rights, assault in family
Australia’s shameful billion-dollar secret. Source: Getty

The cost of domestic violence against Australian women is a multi-billion dollar secret.

The Department of Social Services is believed to have received updated figures by KPMG just prior to the Covid-19 lockdowns, on the cost of this violence against women and children.

However, these figures have not been publicly released and the reasons why have not been forthcoming from the Department. It is not a question that KPMG as the client, should or could, answer.

Without adequate, timely and publicly available research, victims of domestic violence (DV) are denied a voice, and it becomes more difficult to measure and address the severity of Australia’s growing problem.

Covid-19 has certainly made matters worse. Women and children have literally been trapped living around the clock with their abusers.

Since the Federal Government announced compulsory lockdowns due to Covid-19 in March of this year, the number of cases of domestic violence and the severity of abuse has increased significantly.

Chronic underfunding to family violence legal assistance and support services has also stretched organisations to breaking point, Women’s Legal Services Australia has warned.

Julie Kun CEO of WIRE Women’s Information, which helps victims of abuse, says if the government has new data on the rising cost of violence against women in Australia it must be made available.

“Transparency is a good thing and we should be able to see it [data] and it will help us better inform how we deal with this thing that is family violence.”

The Government has been accused of largely ignoring women in its October Budget while also failing to collaborate with key departments on key women’s issues.

According to the Shadow Minister for Women Julie Collins, the government’s Office for Women was reportedly “locked out” of the Morrison Government’s key policy responses on to Covid-19.

Questions asked in the Senate reveal that the Office For Women did not brief the Morrison Government on its early access to superannuation, JobKeeper or JobSeeker policies between March and April – when the key Covid response decisions were made.

“Most of the Budget announcements were a rehash on things that were already announced in 2019,” says Ms Kun.

An online survey of 15,000 women published in July by the Institute of Criminology found that two-thirds of women who experienced physical or sexual violence by a current or former cohabiting partner since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic said the violence had started or escalated in the three months prior to the survey.

Many front line agencies that help women and families experiencing domestic violence say abuse cases have basically doubled since the March Covid-lockdowns began.

“Before Covid, 40 per cent of the calls we were getting were related to family violence, now it’s over 60 per cent,” says Ms Kun. “What that’s telling us is either more people are seeking help or more abuse is happening.”

Joanna Fletcher CEO of Women’s Legal Services Victoria says her organisation is also turning away 40 per cent of women seeking assistance due to lack of staff and resources.

“These are highly disadvantaged women who are needing free legal help.

“We also know the causes of violence of women come from lack of gender equity and attitudes and beliefs about violence and the place of women.

“International research supports the belief that in societies that are less equitable, are more likely to have higher incidences of violence against women.”

Kristin Hunter the CEO of Future Super, says the government needs to do more to help victims of domestic violence with targeted spending, rather than relying on initiatives such as the early access to superannuation scheme.

“Forcing vulnerable people to raid their retirement funds is pushing the problem down the road.

“There is a huge opportunity for the government to redirect some of the stimulus that has gone to male dominated industries and to tax reduction for high income earners to support vulnerable women who are being made more vulnerable because of the pandemic,” she says.

“The push to focus on individual factors is a distraction away from talking about systemic failures that have put individuals in those situations in the first place.”

Bianca Hartge-Hazelman is the author of the Financy Women’s Index and founder of women’s money website financy.com.au. She is also a proud contributor and supporter of Yahoo Finance’s Women’s Money Movement.

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