The Prime Minister’s response to Monday’s March4Justice rallies across Australia was a disgrace but not unexpected given the government’s apparent attempts to hide data on the rising cost of the domestic violence against women under the excuse of COVID-19.
The Federal Government commissioned KPMG to provide an update to its 2016 report titled; The cost of violence against women and their children in Australia, and the research was provided to the Department of Social Services at the start of last year – prior to lockdowns in March.
This KPMG report would have been the first report of its kind released under the Scott Morrison government. Indeed had it been released, he may have , just maybe, have delivered a better speech than the disgraceful one to Parliament yesterday.
“First and foremost this is a matter of human rights and dignity,” says Social Outcomes economists Nicki Hutley. “If the he or government can’t understand that, then they should understand the economic costs of failing to act in terms of the lack of productivity for these women – these costs are enormous.
“It’s not just the loss of life, women suffer from absenteeism and presentism – where they are at work but are so deeply affected that they can’t function properly. Then these are the mental health impacts which affect women and children for the rest of their lives,” says Hutley.
Without adequate, timely and publicly available research, it becomes more difficult to call on the government of the day to accept responsibility for a growing problem under their watch.
It also means that victims of domestic violence (DV) are denied a voice, and a culture of gender inequality against women is perpetuated.
It also becomes more difficult to measure and address the severity of Australia’s growing problem.
In 2016, KPMG noted:
- The cost of violence against women and their children in Australia is $22 billion in 2015-16.
- Victims and survivors bear $11.3 billion, or 52 per cent, of the total costs.
- The Australian Government, state and territory governments bear $4.1 billion or 19 per cent of the total costs.
- The community, children of women experiencing violence, the perpetrators, employers, and friends and family bear $6.5 billion, or 29 per cent, of the total costs.
- Underrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, pregnant women, women with disability, and women who are homeless within national prevalence estimates may add a further $4 billion to the cost of violence against women and their children in Australia in 2015-16.
As I wrote in this article for Yahoo Finance, COVID-19 has made matters worse as women and children have more often than not been trapped living around the clock in domestic violence situations.
Since the Federal Government announced compulsory lockdowns due to Covid-19 in March of last year, the number of cases of domestic violence and the severity of abuse has increased significantly.
Chronic underfunding to family violence legal assistance and support services has also stretched organisations to breaking point, Women’s Legal Services Australia has warned.
Julie Kun CEO of WIRE Women’s Information, which helps victims of abuse, says if the government has new data on the rising cost of violence against women in Australia it must be made available.
“Transparency is a good thing and we should be able to see it [data] and it will help us better inform how we deal with this thing that is family violence.”
An online survey of 15,000 women published in July last year by the Institute of Criminology found that two-thirds of women who experienced physical or sexual violence by a current or former cohabiting partner since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic said the violence had started or escalated in the three months prior to the survey.
Many front line agencies that help women and families experiencing domestic violence say abuse cases have basically doubled since the March Covid-lockdowns began.
“Before Covid, 40 per cent of the calls we were getting were related to family violence, now it’s over 60 per cent,” says Ms Kun.
“What that’s telling us is either more people are seeking help or more abuse is happening.”
Joanna Fletcher CEO of Women’s Legal Services Victoria says her organisation is also turning away 40 per cent of women seeking assistance due to lack of staff and resources.
“These are highly disadvantaged women who are needing free legal help.
“We also know the causes of violence of women come from lack of gender equity and attitudes and beliefs about violence and the place of women.
“International research supports the belief that in societies that are less equitable, are more likely to have higher incidences of violence against women.”
Kristin Hunter the CEO of Future Super, says the government needs to do more to help victims of domestic violence with targeted spending, rather than relying on initiatives such as the early access to superannuation scheme.
“Forcing vulnerable people to raid their retirement funds is pushing the problem down the road.
“There is a huge opportunity for the government to redirect some of the stimulus that has gone to male dominated industries and to tax reduction for high income earners to support vulnerable women who are being made more vulnerable because of the pandemic,” she says.
“The push to focus on individual factors is a distraction away from talking about systemic failures that have put individuals in those situations in the first place.”