Fair Agenda 2017 Budget Guide

Want to know what you should be keeping an eye out for in tonight’s budget? 

Here’s a quick brief on the top items of Fair Agenda’s “watch list” for tonight’s Federal Budget:

1. Increased funding to ensure women in need can access domestic violence services

Thousands of women are being put in danger by the Federal Government's decisions to keep denying adequate funding to domestic and family violence related services. 

Many family violence services rely on both federal and state funding to operate. And this is an area that all Governments, including the Turnbull Government, should be making a top priority, and stepping up funding of required services.

Here’s a snapshot of the problem:

  • Family Violence Prevention Legal services, which provide a specialist and culturally safe service for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, report that they are forced to turn away more than 30% of people who come to them for help because of inadequate funding. This is in a context where approximately 90% of violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women is already believed to go unreported to services.
  • In South Australia, the Crisis Service estimates the increase in demand for their service over the last year could be as high as 30%. They believe that tight funding leaves them increasingly less able to provide the early intervention work they know is necessary to increase women’s safety. Instead, limited funding forces them to constrict their service focus to the most high risk cases when a woman is already in immediate, imminent risk.
    What’s more, the services the crisis line refers women on to are also consistently already at capacity – making it extremely rare that women in crisis can be placed into a specialist service directly.
  • Community Legal Centres – where family violence and family law related work are some of the biggest areas where people seek assistance, have to turn away more than 160,000 people a year (including but not limited to women affected by domestic violence) because of inadequate funding.
  • Men’s Behaviour Change programs have, on average, upwards of a 6 month waiting list for men to get into a behaviour change program, even when it’s court mandated.

Last week the Victorian Government set the benchmark for the kind of response we should be expecting from Governments – with an announcement of $1.9 *billion* of additional funding for family violence response in the state.

We need to see an equivalent scale of investment by the Federal Government. That’s the message Fair Agenda members and survivor advocates have been sending:

Rebeca and Liana's video

You can join the campaign for full funding here: http://www.fairagenda.org/domesticviolence

Budget analysis tip: Up until last month, the Federal Government were preparing to cut the funding of Community Legal Centres by almost $34 million over three years. They recently announced $39 million of funding for the service -- reversing those cuts, and providing ~$5 million extra for Community Legal Centres over the next three years. 

This was a really positive announcement. The Attorney-General has been touting this commitment as "record levels of funding" and we anticipate this message will feature again tonight. But it's important we don't let the Government move the goal posts on this issue. At its heart, this announcement was essentially just a reversal of funding cuts. Service providers say the ~$5 million of new funding (spread across three years and the country's more than 100 centres) will do little, if anything, to address the 160,000 people a year they're forced to turn away (including women seeking their assistance to escape family violence).

In 2014 the Productivity Commission recommended to the Federal Government that they needed to inject $120 million extra per year to the legal assistance sector to address unmet legal need across Australia. That's the scale of funding we need to be seeing in the legal sector. 


2. Cuts to working parents’ time to care for their newborns

It’s expected that the Turnbull Government will use this budget to resurrect many of its so called “zombie measures” from the 2014 budget. It’s expected that this will include cutting hundreds of millions of dollars from our paid parental leave system.

This is a system that is overwhelmingly utilised by women, in a context where the full time gender pay gap is 16% and almost 50% of mothers report they have experienced discrimination in the workplace at some stage during their pregnancy or parental leave. 

The Government have been trying to introduce a system cut that would change the system from the current "combined" system to a system capped at 20 weeks -- well short of the 26-week minimum recommended for health and welfare reasons.

These are cuts punish that will punish women who have secured parental leave from their employers – often at the expense of increased pay. And it will hit workers like nurses, ambulance service workers, retail workers and teachers hard -- across tens of thousands of families a year. 

For the past two years Fair Agenda members have helped stop these cuts. We have to keep up the efforts, and maintain the pressure on the Nick Xenophon Team to keep using their deciding votes to reject these cruel cuts.

Join the campaign here: http://www.fairagenda.org/ppl


3. Homelessness and housing funding

Fair Agenda will be keeping an eye out for any changes to the National Affordable Housing Agreement (NAHA) or the National Partnership Agreement on Homeless (NPAH). 

These are both vital sources of funding for family and domestic violence services and also for public housing. Both of which need increased resourcing.

Right now there’s a 200,000 person waiting list for public housing. And older women are the fastest growing group of Australians being pushed into homelessness.

According to the most recent census, there are close to 100,000 women over 60 are living in public housing. And women and girls make up a majority of those who rely on public housing.

We need increased investment in both family violence services, and public housing.

But there’s a chance that the Government may use this budget to redirect funding from the NAHA funding stream to other housing measures. So keep an eye out for any changes that would direct money away from public housing.


4. Cuts to programs for the world’s poorest

There have been leaks this week suggesting the Government plans to tear funding out of programs for the safety and wellbeing of the world’s poorest people.

The majority of the world’s poorest people are women – so any cuts in this area will have a dangerous impact on our vulnerable neighbours.

One key area to keep an eye on is funding for family planning and reproductive health. You may recall US President Donald Trump has imposed a “global gag rule” on the US aid program – preventing any investment in programs that even talk about full reproductive healthcare options. 

The Australian Christian Lobby has been pushing a similar agenda here – calling on the Government to re-introduce an equivalent rule that had been in place to restrict the use of Australia's global aid under John Howard. We need to make sure there aren't moves to reintroduce this horrifying rule in Australia.


5. Women's representation

The Turnbull Government took a $13 million STEM focused funding package to the last election - with a pledge to support women to pursue careers in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics industries. Keep an eye out for any other positive funding announcements in this or other women's representation areas.


6. The women’s budget statement

The Women’s Budget Statement was introduced in Australia in 1984. It served to provide a comprehensive overview of where budget allocations were being made to ensure women’s rights were being upheld.

But it was dropped by Tony Abbott in his capacity as Minister for Women in 2014. Without it the Australian public has no access to information on what is being spent to advance gender equality and women’s rights – or how proposed budget members would set women’s equality back.

As the Minister who was responsible for introducing the statement back in 1984 says: "The Budget had been designed by men, for men and before the Statement was introduced, everyone assumed that would work for women as well. It didn't, obviously."

Fair Agenda, ActionAid Australia and the Women’s Electoral Lobby are partnering on a campaign calling on the Turnbull Government to reinstate the Women’s Budget Statement. Can you join the campaign?


Fair Agenda will be posting budget analysis live tonight as the Budget is delivered. You can get all the analysis as it's released by following Fair Agenda on facebook or twitter.