Royal Commission Hears McAuley Testimony

Like us, you will have been following the Royal Commission into Family Violence closely. As the CEO of Victoria’s only organisation keeping women who are homeless and women and children escaping family violence safe, I was pleased to be able to testify about the impact of financial abuse and economic inequity on women, and the need to keep women in stable jobs and safe homes.

Our first recommendation to the Royal Commission is for the Victorian Government to fund a comprehensive, fully resourced Safe at Home program. This would enable women to stay at home more safely, be supported to keep working, or return to work and for children to stay or return to school, to receive rent assistance and brokerage to make their homes safe, for intervention orders to be prioritized and for breaches to be dealt with swiftly by the justice system Technological solutions need to be included in any ‘Safe at Home’ response so that evidence can be gathered and used reliably in court.

This recommendation is not made lightly.

Many women coming to our accessible 24/7 safe house and refuge program say they want to stay at home but fear for their safety. Only around 10% of women who come to McAuley Community Services for Women’s crisis service each year, leave to return home, and of them, only half with adequate protection. Over the past year, two women out of 390 women who came to the safe house returned under the Safe at Home plan.

The current ‘Safe at Home’ response is piecemeal and inadequately resourced.

This is not good enough.

I have recently returned from the UK where I was able to see Sanctuary Schemes, the equivalent of Safe at Home, operating smoothly and with extraordinary results. The UK with a population of around 68 million has two thirds fewer deaths from family violence than Australia. Here the 59th woman to die from family violence has just been marked, and if we continue at the present rate of two deaths a week, 91 women will die this year.

So how does the UK system work? Overall, it is better joined up with local councils taking a lead role. There is also greater use of the remand system for perpetrators, services meet quickly, often daily, when risk to a woman or children is high, and all parties are required to take all cases.. There is an integrated response through the criminal system and child protection where family members share information resulting in a “nowhere to hide” environment

Critical though is the mandate that safety at home is paramount and leaving for a safe house or refuge is the last response. If women and children do leave, they have access to more housing options. 

Over the next months, we will be briefing politicians, our donors, partners, the media and philanthropic organisations about our recommendations and methods of addressing family violence and homelessness

We are optimistic about what the Commissioners will deliver and pleased to hear that all recommendations will be funded. What we – as a pioneer of many initiatives for women and children who are either homeless or at risk of homelessness as a result of family violence – are determined to ensure is that all recommendations deliver change for the better.

If you are interested in more detail, please can you email Penny Underwood on punderwood@mcauleycsw.org.au 

In the meantime, please read our submission.

Jocelyn Bignold
Chief Executive Officer
McAuley Community Services for Women