Whilst having a defined focus on women’s safety, Indigenous advocates say the 2021-22 federal Budget has fallen short of supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and services.

The Federal Government has committed $1 billion to improving women’s safety, with $57.6 million designated to work with First Nations communities in addressing family and domestic violence.

They are providing $26 million across four years to Family Violence Prevention Legal Service programs and $31.6 million across five years for a “personal safety survey for First Nations women” which will be administered by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The Budget papers note this will record “just how prevalent violence facing Indigenous women and girls is”.

The Budget referenced the National Agreement on Closing the Gap’s new family safety target to “reduce the rate of all forms of family violence and abuse against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children by at least 50 per cent by 2031″ — an aim that can only be achieved through “targeted action”.

Christine Robinson from Wirringa Baiya Aboriginal Women’s Legal Centre and Ashlee Donohue, chief executive of Mudgin-Gal Women’s Place, say that despite the Budget specialised services that support First Nations women facing violence have been left behind.

Both organisations are community-controlled, having only Aboriginal women sitting on their Boards. Mudgin-Gal is dedicated to being a safe space for the surrounding Redfern community and Wirringa Baiya provides legal advice, support and safety to Aboriginal women across New South Wakes.

“The Budget really does not help Aboriginal community organisations. There is nothing in that Budget that is saying, ‘Okay we are here, we are going to invest in the women that sit at the top of all the statistics around all kind of violence, incarceration, child removal,’” said Donohue.

“Nothing says that they are interested in investing in First Nations women by giving more money to community organisations, to community legal services — they don’t see us or hear us.”

“But every single white organisation will get money for Aboriginal clients.”

Robinson says whilst the Closing the Gap target exists, it is an ambitious target without true investment.

“The Closing the Gap target is unrealistic; we know that this is long-term. It needs long-term investment, long-term strategy, it needs to have community ownership and control and appropriate financial investment from government,” she said.

Both organisations struggle for adequate sustained funding and have to survive on small grants and funding opportunities to employ staff full-time and keep their doors open.

“When clients ring up and are told that someone they trust isn’t here because they only work three days a week, it makes things really hard,” said Robinson.

“This is compounded by the fact that many of these women have been exposed to violence and experience complex trauma.

Donohue says it’s community organisations that consistently miss out on important funding.

“The Government dishes out this large amount of money thinking that it is going to the organisations that need it, but that isn’t how it works,” she said.

Ashlee Donohue, chief executive of Mudgin-Gal Women’s Place. Photo supplied.

Despite the continued lack of support from the Federal Government, the women say Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander services are best fit to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

“We understand the issues, we work on the ground, we are from the community, we understand what is happening,” said Robinson.

“Our cultural knowledge, and our lived experience is underestimated and undervalued at times.”

“We are more likely to get Aboriginal women talking to us and opening up, they don’t open up as much with non-Aboriginal services because they don’t have that trust. That is because of history.”

In response to the Government’s announcement of an online survey, both women expressed their concerns around accessibility for Aboriginal women.

“What that is saying is that every Aboriginal woman who is living below the poverty line, who is disadvantaged, has a computer, has data can get online and do that survey,” said Donohue.

Robinson says these surveys assume the women undertaking them are literate and computer literate, too.

“Those surveys are not the kind of thing that works for our community, that kind of strategy would be better placed for community services to go and complete the surveys face-to-face,” she said.

While the Budget neglected community-controlled organisations like Wirringa Baiya and Mudgin-Gal, the services will keep their doors open, doing everything they can for their community.

“It isn’t about the dollar for us, we are Aboriginal people. We are concerned about our people, we are concerned about our families, the safety of our women and kids, the safety of our men — everything that is community,” said Robinson.

By Rachael Knowles