2015-16 Budget Estimates Hearings Alert Report

Ms GRALEY (Narre Warren South) — I rise to make a contribution on the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC) report entitled 2015–16 Budget Estimates Hearings Alert Report.

Like the previous speaker, the member for Mornington, I would like to commend the committee for saving those thousands of trees and making sure that we have a much more abridged paper version of all that has gone on at PAEC in recent months. I for one have found it very accessible to go to the website and read the report of the hearings and get additional material for any research I may be undertaking.

I will make reference to the material that PAEC provides on the website because my contribution this morning relates to the presentation by a minister for the prevention of family violence to PAEC. In fact it was the very first presentation by a Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence to the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee, and it really sends a message to the community that we are very serious about this critical issue. It was a long overdue and much-needed appointment.

I note that the machinery of government and portfolio changes in the alert indicate that that appointment has been made. The minister herself said at the committee:

… we recognised that we needed to address the crisis, and for too long we know that family violence has been allowed to corrode what is the most important unit within our society, which is of course the family.

We all saw the devastating and tragic story of Luke Batty unfold, and I heard the minister make reference to it in a member’s statement this morning. Just over a week ago the coroner delivered his findings into the death of this young boy. He found Luke’s death was preceded by years of family violence perpetrated by Mr Anderson towards him and his mother. The coroner further added that Luke was exposed to emotional harm engendering fear and anxiety, and he was witness to physical harm inflicted by Mr Anderson on his mother. Yet his mother, Rosie Batty, has stood up and spoken out even after all she has been put through, and she has played a pivotal role in awakening our community to the horrific impact family violence has on us all. We thank Rosie dearly for her stand.

The government is committed to ensuring that victims not only receive the help they need but that they have the opportunity and confidence to speak up. We know that Australia’s very first Royal Commission into Family Violence is underway, and its recommendations and guidance are due to be delivered early next year. This is a landmark initiative which will help us to change attitudes towards women and children and address gender inequality. The key cause of family violence is the critical issue of gender inequality.

I can see from the PAEC report that some major budget allocations have been made. The 2015–16 state budget provides $81.3 million in new family violence funding, delivering in full on Labor’s election commitments. We are seeing $3.5 million provided for counselling services for women and children experiencing or recovering from family violence. We have introduced the world’s very first family violence index, of which I know the minister is very proud, to provide a benchmark for government and society to measure against and to track how we are doing on ending the harm caused by family violence. Funding of $3.9 million has been provided for additional workers in the child protection system, and $100 000 has been provided for foster care for pets. This is a good initiative, as often women stay in family violence situations because they are worried about leaving their pet behind. There is also a much-needed boost of $1.6 million for legal aid.

I noticed recently in the Fairfax Media that even the Prime Minister has started to talk about family violence, saying this is a very important issue because, as he says, violence against women begins with disrespecting women and a big cultural shift is required. I call on the federal government to match the Victorian government’s support for legal aid, because I noticed also in that article that federal funding for community legal centres, where family violence victims often turn up for help, is expected to fall from $42 million to $30 million — according to its budget papers. These legal centres dearly need more funding to deal with the many women who need assistance when going through the experience of leaving their violent partners. The minister finished her presentation by saying that family violence is linked to systemic gender inequality, and Labor will support the equal participation of women in the economic, social and civic life of the community by implementing whole-of-government policies and programs.

I commend the minister and her department on all the good work they are doing in this field.