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Budget brief: where is the new help for domestic violence?

Remembering the dozens of Australians’ lives already cut short this year because of domestic and family violence. L.C. Nøttaasen/Flickr, CC BY

The Conversation’s Budget briefs series aims to answer reader questions about the 2015 federal budget. Thanks to reader Mary-Anne Van Adrichem for this question.

Given Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s public support for more urgent action on domestic violence – which he recently called an “unfolding tragedy” across Australia – one might have expected that concern to be reflected in the 2015 budget. Sadly, this was not the case.

That leaves critical services such as a national crisis hotline under-funded and unable to keep up with demand.

The only new federal funding in this budget is towards the previously announced $16.7 million over three years to a National Awareness Campaign to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children. This represents the federal government’s contribution towards that national campaign, which will be almost matched by state and territory funding, for a combined total of $30 million. This was all agreed at the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting back in March.

The two other budget items that address domestic violence are merely short-term extensions of funding.

There is a two-year extension of funding to the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (NPAH), which represents $230 million over the two years. This is an important commitment, as the government recognises that “domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness” and seeks to prioritise services that assist women and children escaping domestic violence. However, like the community awareness campaign, it had already been announced.

There is also a two-year extension of funding ($25.4 million) to community and Indigenous legal services. Like the NPAH, that funding was due to end on July 1 this year, but in late March the federal government responded to growing public concern by reversing the funding cuts. However, the future of those legal services beyond June 2017 remains unclear.

The latest budget announcements come against a backdrop of much greater public and political awareness about the impact of domestic violence. Yet that appears to be the sum total of budget commitments this year.

This is highly disappointing given that we know that crucial services are still unable to meet current demands. For example, it was recently reported that, in 2014, 1800RESPECT – the national 24/7 crisis line for sexual assault, domestic and family violence – responded to 54,853 contacts but left 18,631 unanswered. This means that one-quarter of contacts made to that service were not responded to when someone called for help.

We can only expect that demand for this and other crisis services will increase when the new national awareness campaign is in full swing. Who will answer those calls?

More significantly, none of the new or extended funding provides any long-term commitment to what is a long-term, entrenched problem.

This lack of funding for such an urgent problem has not gone unnoticed. TV hosts Waleed Aly and Lisa Wilkinson have both already challenged the government on this important issue.

Waleed Aly calls for more federal funding for domestic violence.

Perhaps this is the one positive to come out of this budget’s response to domestic violence – that hard questions are now being asked about when the “urgent action” we have been promised will start.

Read more of The Conversation’s Federal Budget 2015 coverage.

Anyone at risk of family and domestic violence and/or sexual assault can seek help 24 hours a day, seven days a week, either online or by calling 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732). Information is also available in 28 languages other than English.

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