Content warning: This article contains reference to domestic, family and sexual violence. Please refer to the services at the bottom of this article for support.

 

Whilst the Morrison Government dedicated additional funding to Closing the Gap through its recently announced implementation plan, the funding has fallen short for specialist domestic and family violence services.

The expert body addressing domestic and family violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children, the National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services Forum (National FVPLS Forum) were excluded from additional direct funding.

The body hosts 14 members from across the country that deliver frontlines services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children experiencing violence.

Target 13 of the National Agreement on Closing the Gap aims to see the “rate of all forms of family violence and abuse against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children … reduced at least by 50 per cent” by 2031.

Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt told NIT the Government is “absolutely committed to delivering on each of the targets under the National Agreement on Closing the Gap”.

“In the 2021-22 Budget, the Government committed $23 million to improve the safety of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women including $17 million to expand the Family Violence Prevention Legal Services program to improve access to specialist, culturally safe services and expand FVPLS services into areas where services do not currently exist,” he said.

But National FVPLS Forum Co-Chair and Djirra CEO, Antoinette Braybrook, said whilst funding is welcomed, plans to expand FVPLSs came as a surprise to the forum.

“It came as a surprise to us that the allocation did not go towards existing FVPLSs,” said Braybrook.

“We do acknowledge that there was an increase in funding for our existing services in the Budget but it just doesn’t make sense to establish new services when our 14 existing FVPLSs are not able to meet demand.”

Braybrook noted the significant role that FVPLSs have in closing the gap, however, they lack the resources to reach their full potential.

“In the work that FVPLSs do in our communities, we see how family violence is both a cause and consequence of our women’s imprisonment. Family violence is a key contributor to us becoming the fastest growing prison population in the nation,” Braybrook said.

“Over 90 per cent of our women in prison have experienced family and sexual violence … 80 per cent of our women in prison are mothers and their children most likely are caught up in the children protection system.”

“That is a clear pathway for our kids to move into youth justice and adult incarceration.”

The National FVPLS Forum has recently been fighting for a seat at the table for the National Plan Advisory Group (NPAG), which will inform the next National Plan to end family, domestic and sexual violence.

“It doesn’t make sense that we are not at the table and seen by the Federal Government as a key stakeholder to inform the development of the National Plan,” said National FVPLS Forum Deputy Chair and CEO of Aboriginal Family Legal Service Southern Queensland, Tabatha Young.

“Why wouldn’t you [talk to us]?”

Braybrook added that the Forum’s representation in the NPAG “would only strengthen [its] work”.

While the Forum doesn’t have representation on the NPAG, member Emily Carter and former member Professor Victoria Hovane have been appointed to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Council.

Braybrook, whilst supporting their appointment, says both women represent their communities in Western Australia.

“Our 14 member organisations work in many diverse communities across the country. Having our national body represented on the Council will bring together the perspectives from the different States and Territories that our members are located in,” said Braybook.

Carter, Professor Hovane, Braybrook and National FVPLS member Phynea Clarke have all been invited to the Women’s Safety Summit, which has recently been rescheduled to September.

Although they all have invitations to the Summit, none have been invited as a representative of the National FVPLS Forum.

“I cannot attend the Women’s Summit with a national hat on representing the views of members across Australia — and also as a Victorian delegate,” said Braybrook.

“Our National FVPLS Forum provides a national perspective which informs the national agenda. That’s why we need our national body to have representation there, so all 14 members are heard.”

The National FVPLS Forum has advised Minister for Women’s Safety Anne Ruston‘s office that they nominate Co-Chair Wynetta Dewis to attend the Summit.

If you are experiencing domestic, family or sexual violence, please contact:

Visit respect.gov.au for more information and to download free resources.

 

By Rachael Knowles