Australia urged to take action amid rising violence against women

Federal and state women’s safety ministers in Australia are meeting in Canberra on Friday to discuss the need for major reform in handling the country’s family violence crisis.

At least 80 organisations have signed a letter by the Australian Women Against Violence Alliance (AWAVA) and Fair Agenda to call for “urgent and immediate changes to improve women’s safety”.

The letter outlines five actions that can be implemented immediately, including fully funding women’s and children’s services and putting children’s safety first in the family law system.

The meeting was called in response to the murders of Hannah Clarke and her three children – Laianah, six, Aaliyah, four, and Trey, three – by her former partner in Brisbane on February 19.

Clarke and her children burned to death when Rowan Baxter poured petrol on their vehicle and set it alight. Baxter later committed suicide on the scene.

Clarke had a police-issued protection order against her ex-partner, and police have confirmed that there was a history of violence in the relationship. It is believed that Baxter ambushed Clarke’s car, as she drove their children to school.

Across Australia, police respond to one family violence incident every two minutes and women are three times more likely than men to experience violence from their partner.

According to Our Watch, a non-governmental organisation that campaigns against violence against women and families, one woman a week is killed by a current or former partner. Nine women have been murdered by men in Australia so far in 2020.

Budget cuts
Advocates hope that the meeting on women’s safety scheduled on Friday will agree that urgent steps be taken to combat violence against women.

“The five interventions [we are calling for] can be implemented quickly and make a real difference within weeks,” said Fair Agenda’s Executive Director Renee Carr.

“There are services that women are reaching out to right now that aren’t sufficiently funded, and there are other services facing cuts,” Carr said.

“We’re so far from where governments need to be in handling violence against women.”

Larissa Waters, co-deputy leader of the Australian Greens, announced on Thursday she had written to Minister for Women Marise Payne to push for 5.3 billion Australian dollars ($3.49bn) of funding over 10 years.

She called for improvements to front-line police services, highlighting “concerning reports” of police mishandling in family violence cases.

“Women who have survived domestic violence won’t seek police help if they think they will be disbelieved, or exposed to more danger,” Waters said in the letter.

‘Nothing is off the table’
Payne, who also serves as Australia’s Foreign Minister, said that “nothing is off the table” for discussion in Friday’s meeting.

Tens of family service providers around Australia are facing funding shortages and closures after repeated budget cuts by federal and state governments.

The National Family Violence Prevention and Legal Services Forum (NFVPLS) is one of these organisations.

 

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