explainer

The 2020 Federal Budget contains no justice for First Nations women. That's a huge problem.

If a Budget is a reflection of government values, then Budget 2020 paints a bleak picture of this government’s priorities: 

  • No new funding to see the Closing the Gap targets met 
  • No new funding for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Family Violence Prevention and Legal Services 
  • No funding at all for the National Family Violence Prevention and Legal Services peak body ‘the Forum’ 
  • Nothing to stem the devastating number of Black deaths in custody 
  • No new funding to address the crisis of family violence unfolding across the continent 

There has been a great deal of commentary about the glaring absence of women from Budget 2020 despite women bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 recession - and none more so than First Nations women experiencing, or at risk of, family violence.

Watch: Women and violence: the hidden numbers. Post continues below.


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‘The Forum’ is the peak body representing 14 member organisations across Australia that provide holistic, frontline specialist, culturally safe legal and non-legal supports to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experiencing or at risk of family violence – predominantly women and their children. 

As of December 31 this year, the Forum has no guaranteed future funding - and there is nothing in the Budget to save it. There is nothing to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women can maintain their voice and continue to have their say in the national conversation about ending family violence.

In May 2020, Change the Record published the first national report into the impacts of COVID-19 policies on First Nations people called ‘Critical Condition’. Drawing on the extraordinary frontline work of the Forum’s member organisations in every state and territory, Critical Condition told the stories of women being denied safety by police, mothers denied access to their children, women unable to access the courts, and growing fears within the sector of an impending explosion of family violence when the restrictions are lifted

Violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women devastates communities and families. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are 34 times more likely to be hospitalised from family violence and 10 times more likely to be killed as a result of violent assault. 

This paints a devastating picture – but we should not forget that up to 90 per cent of violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples goes unreported, and so there is a far more devastating picture that is going unseen. The Forum has advocated strongly for an ambitious numerical target to be set as part of Closing the Gap process to commit states, territories and the Commonwealth to tackling this crisis. 

Critical Condition found that chronic housing shortages have left Aboriginal women and children without safe and secure accommodation during the pandemic, putting them at immediate risk of harm, and impacting on prospects of reunification with children and babies in out of home care.

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The Forum’s member services have documented cases of women experiencing violence being turned away from Women’s Safe Houses and being sent away by police due to staffing shortages as police resources are redirected to border patrols and policing checkpoints. 

One example is the case of Regina* - an Aboriginal woman living in a remote community in the Northern Territory. Regina was assaulted by her partner and sought assistance from the local Aboriginal family violence legal service. The Women’s Safety House in this community is run by the police, and lawyers contacted them for help. Police advised that they were unable to help Regina as their resources were required on border and checkpoint patrols.

Critical Condition also found that the pandemic has made it even harder for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women to access justice. The Forum’s member organisations often deliver face to face services in remote and regional areas where Aboriginal women are less likely to have access to mobile phones, where public phones are limited and ‘technology blackspots’ make other forms of communication almost impossible. 

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During the pandemic with lockdowns and service restrictions, front line service providers have struggled to provide women with the support they need. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, regardless of their geographical location and whether they live in rural, regional or urban centres, must have access to culturally appropriate services and support to promote their safety, health and wellbeing. 

Finally, and one of the most devastating consequences of the inadequate and shortsighted government response to the pandemic, is the separation of mothers from their children. Children and babies removed from their mothers because of child safety concerns can only be returned when the mother has somewhere safe and secure to live. 

Decades of government failure to invest in the housing and community services has denied Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women the support and accommodation they need to reestablish their lives. During COVID-19 it has resulted in babies being removed from mothers at birth and mothers being denied face to face visits with their children in out of home care. 

COVID-19 has touched all of our lives in some way. Perhaps none more so than Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women like Regina who are being let down because of a short-sighted government agenda that is failing to invest in the long-term, self-determined work of services like the Forum whose mission it is to end violence against women. 

You can support the campaign to save the Forum hereYou can find out more about Change the Record here

*Names have been changed 

Sophie Trevitt is a lawyer and the Executive Officer of Change the Record.

Feature image: Getty.

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