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Family Violence Counselling and Support Service Funding

Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Tags: Family Violence

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Speaker, I rise in my capacity as the Greens spokesperson for women and also communities to make a contribution on notice of motion 173.

When a victim of family violence or sexual assault reaches out for help, makes that phone call, seeks that counselling service and support, as a parliament and as a society we need to make sure that support is there at that critical point in time for the victims of family violence and sexual assault. That requires of us the broadest possible, the most expert support service and counselling service that can be funded and resourced properly. I acknowledge the work of the Family Violence Counselling and Support Service over 14 years now in the Tasmanian community and the many thousands of women and children who have been supported and strengthened by their contact with the Family Violence Counselling and Support Service.

It is important that we remind ourselves of some of the causes of family violence and sexual assault. A foundational cause of violence against women is gender inequality - discrimination against women and girls that embeds itself through our society and culture. We also need to acknowledge that worsening inequality in our country creates enormous pressures in families: poverty, childhood trauma, homelessness and addiction, for example to drugs, alcohol or poker machines. The causes of family violence and sexual assault are many. There is no space in this place to excuse anyone who hurts a woman or a child, of course, but we need to be honest about some of those foundational causes. I argue the biggest contributor towards a culture that has not yet been able to deal with the scourge of family violence and sexual assault is a culture that still does not adequately respect women and girls as equals.

As the Premier mentioned, I have had a bit to do with the Family Violence Counselling and Support Service in my time as the minister for Human Services and I was part of the process of reviewing the service. That review process came about as a result of concerns that had been expressed to me as minister about some of the practices of the service, practices that were apparently inflexible to new models of providing counselling and support.

Of particular concern to me, as minister, was the fact that, at the time, the Family Violence Counselling and Support Service was not providing counselling services to children who were still living in the home of the perpetrator. I took the view then - and take the view now - that there is no place for ideological purity when it comes to children who are being harmed because they are in the home of a violent person who is invariably, statistically, a man. That is why we initiated the two reviews: the (TBC) PPP consulting review and yes, it is true, Premier, one of the recommendations was to outsource the service. I took advice and I also recognised that you need to have that government service response. I took the view that you need to have a counselling and support service that is inside government and part of government's service delivery, as part of quite a broad and well-resourced counselling and support service.

We put a change management process in place and I was under the understanding following that review, that the practice which had been not to provide counselling support to the children who were still in the homes of the perpetrators, had ended. Unfortunately, it later became clear to me, that it had not. I commissioned Dr Joe Tucci, who is the CEO of the Australian Childhood Foundation, to provide further advice on best practice in responding to children who are the victims of family violence. As we know - and we passed legislation through this place - children are victims of vicarious trauma. While the perpetrator may not have physically harmed the child, in perpetrating violence on the child's parent, and invariably their mother, that is causing profound trauma to those children who are witnessing that violence.

It is a trauma that stays with children all their lives and into their adult lives. It can have the most profound and debilitating effect on children for the course of their lives. To be honest, I was furious when it became clear that the practice of not providing counselling to children who were still in the home of the perpetrators had continued.

Dr Joe Tucci's advice - and I do not have his report here in front of me at the moment - was that the service needed to include those children. It is not the child's fault that they are still in the home of the perpetrator. There are circumstances where a woman, as we all know, is afraid to or for a multitude of reasons including emotional and financial reasons, does not leave the home of the perpetrator.

That brings with it a whole level of increased risk to mothers and their children. I am not sure if the Family Violence Counselling and Support Service provides counselling services to children who are still trapped in the family home where the perpetrator is present. I certainly hope so because it is not the child's fault.

We have no issue supporting this notice of motion. There needs to be a properly resourced Family Violence Counselling and Support Service that is applying contemporary best practice to counselling and support for the victims of family violence and indeed sexual assault.

I have not heard arguments within the sector for not recognising that sexual assault is also a part of violence against women. I support the integration of sexual assault support services and family violence support and counselling services. I have not yet heard a solid argument backed by evidence that we should not recognise that they are two halves of the same grim coin.

I acknowledge the work not only of the Family Violence Counselling and Support Service but the other outstanding community sector organisations which are also providing that support to victims, survivors of violence and sexual assault and gender equality. These include the Australian Childhood Foundation and the Sexual Assault Support Service. They are doing fantastic work in the community.

When you step back and have a look at the fabric of the community sector in Tasmania more broadly, we have one of the strongest community sectors in the country - not in terms of its resourcing, but in terms of its philosophy and its ethics. There is that sense of connection between community sector organisations which I believe is rare, nationally. Organisations that work alongside the Family Violence Counselling and Support Service to provide services, and in many ways complementary services are a critical part of our society's response to women and children who experience family violence, sexual assault, and to men who, from time to time, can experience violence in an intimate relationship.

We are not uncomfortable supporting this motion in principle. I have noted what the Premier and minister for the Prevention of Family Violence said about staffing numbers for the past five years. I am not exactly sure what the number was in 2014 but I believe that the Premier said there had been no less staff in the service for the past five years.

The increase in demand for counselling and support services has had an impact on both the Family Violence Counselling and Support Service and those community sector organisations which are providing counselling and support. It is often a question in my mind when you see these soaring levels of violence against women at a time when we talk about it now much more openly as a society. I am often unsure whether or not the increased demand for counselling and support is as a result of our improved ability as a society to confront these issues or, if something much darker is happening, which is that we are becoming a more violent society toward women and children.

It would be helpful to policymakers everywhere to have a finer-grained understanding of why it is that we have laws and frameworks in place. Going back to 2004-05, former attorney-general, Judy Jackson, brought in Safe at Home and work has been done in the past five years by this Government. It would be helpful to know why we have a much better service response to family violence and sexual assault. We are much more capable as a society of recognising the extent of this problem. Women are more likely to understand how utterly wrong it is for the person they are in an intimate relationship with to violently or sexually assault them. There is a higher level of awareness in our community, yet the rates of family violence and sexual assault remain disturbingly high and are often increasing, when you look at the data. There is a sickness in our society. Apparently, we do not yet have that deep cultural change that is required for women and girls to be treated equally across our society.

We will support this motion. It is regrettable that we have debated this motion after the Greens brought on a debate that was also seeking to strengthen public services in Tasmania in relation to firefighters and people who work in parks in remote-area firefighting. It is quite galling for Dr Woodruff and I to treat each motion that comes before us on its merits and vote accordingly, and to put up a motion that is in the interests of community safety as we move toward another scorcher of a summer, and have the Labor Party, the great defenders of the public service, vote against our motion, which would simply have required the Minister for Police, Fire and Emergency Management to lay on the table details of resourcing that will be available to Tasmania Fire Service operators, Parks and Wildlife firefighters and people who work across our emergency services, including the SES and the volunteers who are there to defend community and the environment in times of bushfire.

I needed to mention that because I have seen the CPSU coming out in support on social media, and rightly so, of Ms O'Byrne's motion today calling for extra resourcing into family violence counselling and support. At the same time, not a word about the Labor Party not supporting a factladen motion aimed at securing as much support for community safety as we could get in this House. It was voted against by the Labor Party simply for politics. We are not going to play those games. We genuinely look at every private member's motion and the notice paper and go through motions line by line, talk it through and ask ourselves what the right thing is to do. That is why we will support this motion, despite concerns I have had about the Family Violence Counselling and Support Service going back a very long way. I acknowledge they are an important part of the service delivery system that is there to support women and children, particularly, who are victims of domestic and family violence and sexual assault.

We are voting for this motion because we recognise it is the right thing to do to look at this motion and agree that we need more resourcing and we need a strong Family Violence Counselling and Support Service. I simply implore Labor to try to remind yourselves each day that you are in here to do the right thing.