Not a weekend goes by when I do not get a phone call from someone needing assistance in the women's shelters

28 November 2019

I rise to speak on this very important matter that concerns all Australians. Nearly 10 years ago, in the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly, we debated quite extensively the importance of protecting our women and children across the Northern Territory. I was families minister at the time, and one of the things that we wanted to see across the Northern Territory was a change in culture. And by 'culture', I mean the attitudesthat it was not okay to stand by and witness a woman getting hit, getting flogged or getting smashed up in any of our communities across the Northern Territory, or in the city of Darwin, or in Palmerston, Alice Springs, Katherine, Tennant Creek or Nhulunbuy.

We knew that we had a serious duty as legislators to enable change and to create an environment of safety for all peoplein particular, our children, who were witnessing this at horrible rates across our regional areas and communities. So we introduced the mandatory reporting of domestic violence, and we were questioned and scrutinised, quite clearly and intently, across Australia as to why we wanted to embark on that. But the seriousness of the situation was such that, if we did nothing to change the culture, we knew that we would only continue to see the rise in the hospitalisation rates of our women, who were getting beaten up and having to lie in a coma for weeks or months on end. We knew that our children again would be witnessing this and seeing it as something that was normal. But it isn't normal, and none of our children in Australia should be witnessing that or part of a situation where they feel so unsafein particular, when it's happening in the home.

Each week I am dealing on a very personal level with members of my family in some circumstances that are always related to violence. I'm at the Royal Darwin Hospital, visiting and sitting beside the bed of either my cousin-sister or my aunty, who was in a coma for nearly six months because she was so badly beaten. We have to work with our women so that they can recover. The recovery stage is so critical because, as we have heard from previous senators here, of the constant cycle of that violence. Some of our women go back to that very situation and, unless they have the tools to escape that situationto be financially able to leave that environment, to sustain themselves and their children, but also to be emotionally, mentally and physically able to heal and move on and to create a future for themselves beyond the violenceI know I will continue to sit beside these beds in the hospitals and in the women's shelters.

Not a weekend goes by when I do not get a phone call from someone needing assistance in the women's shelters, and so I go and take out a cousin, my aunty or my sister, and this becomes a regular path. I am so grateful to our women's sheltersthe Darwin Aboriginal and Islander Women's Shelter in Darwin City, the Katherine Women's Crisis Centre, the Tennant Creek Women's Refuge, the Alice Springs Women's Shelterand to all of those women in our regional communities who work on providing a safe environment for what are still, unfortunately, recurring cases of violence.

The inability to financially move out of these situations is the next thing that legislators have to address. I raise that because I am deeply disturbed by the fact that this government, which can do so much more, has taken away the emergency funding for our women's shelters. From places like the Darwin Aboriginal and Islander Women's Shelter, $38,000 has been removed. Thinking about the billions of dollars that can go into any kind of large-scale national program, when you take away $38,000 from the Darwin Aboriginal and Islander Women's Shelter, that means they cannot take in a family; they cannot put them up at Daisy Y, which is one of the Aboriginal hostels; and they cannot provide taxi fares to get them from, for example, the hospital to the shelter. These are small things but they mean so much.

The Darwin Aboriginal and Islander Women's Shelter is an appropriate service for First Nations women who are escaping domestic and family violence and sexual abuse or who are homeless. It has been operating for the past 33 years. It's governed by a board of Indigenous women, and 95 per cent of its staff are Indigenous. It also provides 24-hour domestic violence crisis accommodation for women and children escaping domestic and family violence and sexual abuse and assault. It provides eight transitional housing units, domestic violence outreach programs for women and children, and the Darwin Indigenous Men's Service, because we have to work with our men. Men are very much part of the problem, but they are incredibly so much part of the solution, and so DAIWS works with the men. It makes sure that the program is there to assist men to come through and holistically works at giving them hope for the kind of future they need to havea future that doesn't involve violence.

The removal of the $38,000 has created a great gap for DAIWS. But it's not only them; it's also about the women's refuges in Tennant Creek and Katherine, which have also seen their funding cut. They've been told to move clients to mainstream services. You might think that that's okay, but let me tell you: it is not okay. It is not okay, because these services are culturally appropriate, and they work. How do I know? Because I go there so often and assist with trying to help a lot of these families move from the circumstances that they're in. Much of the time it's repetitive. As many people would know, leaving a domestic violence situation can take decades. People still go back to that situation for different reasons.

These services in Katherine, Tennant Creek and Alice Springs are critical. Again, we are talking about $38,000 in the emergency relief fund. My colleague Senator Jenny McAllister was with me as we went and sat with the women in Katherine. Having that appropriate service means so much for these families. I would call on the government and on the minister: don't hide behind the excuse that you are giving that money to a mainstream service and that's okay. It is not okay. Put the money where it belongs and where it has been adequately and appropriately spent over the last 10 or 11 years. This removal isn't good enough. I would urge you to reconsider that decision. You can reconsider that decision, and you can make a difference to these services, especially before we come to this Christmas season. We know that, unfortunately, the violence rate increases at these times. We want Christmas to bring happiness, but, let me tell you, it also brings some really serious situations that can result, unfortunately, in the death of loved ones.

So I'd urge the government to reconsider its position on these emergency relief funds, in particular for the First Nations services in this country. Give them the Christmas present that they deserve so that they can look after the families who most desperately need the Christmas present that we all would like to give our families. That is one of love, that is one of hope and that is one of decency and dignity and respectknowing that every individual in this country deserves to have a future without violence.