Promised domestic violence funding to help combat a rise in demand for services during the pandemic is yet to be released more than four months after it was announced by the federal government with fanfare.
The federal government committed to the additional funding in May in response to calls from domestic and family violence services to extend funding announced during the 2020 Covid response.
But the services say they are still waiting to hear when the extra funds will be released and haven’t been told when the new national partnership agreement (NPA) needed to commit the funds will be signed.
A spokesperson for the women’s safety minister, Anne Ruston, said negotiations on the draft partnership were progressing and the government “looked forward to finalising the agreement as soon as possible”.
“States and territories are responsible for their contract negotiations with service providers and no jurisdiction has raised concerns with the commonwealth related the service provision related to the NPA,” the spokesperson said.
In March 2020, the Morrison government announced a $150m domestic violence package as part of its Covid response, in addition to previously committed funding.
In the May 2021 budget, the government announced “a landmark package” which included $1.1bn for women’s safety, in response to what experts have called a national crisis in domestic and family violence.
The funding was promised before the women’s safety summit held this month, which concluded with the federal government promising a new national action plan to end violence.
“The next national plan to end violence against women and children must turn your insights into practical action because lives depend on it,” Ruston said in a statement released at the time.
“We all must come together and be united to achieve this goal. That means each and every one of us – politicians, business and community leaders and all Australians – must accept we can do more and promise we will do more.”
But services say they need the funds already promised.
The secretariat for the Queensland domestic violence support network (QDVSN) and chief executive of The Centre for Women & Co, Stacey Ross, said the Queensland state government had provided additional funding which was helping to fill the gap.
But she said services were struggling to plan for the future, while simultaneously seeing more demand for their assistance, without the federal funds.
“Our frontline services are anxious and desperate to hear when and how the funding will be distributed and hope we hear soon,” Ross said.
“The steady increase of high-risk referrals, women and children seeking safety and housing issues increasing with no sustainable investment to support our sector is only adding to the already high pressure workload. We need to know what is happening so we can prepare.’’
Labor’s shadow minister for communities and the prevention of family violence, Jenny McAllister, said the delay was having a real-world impact.
“In March last year, the Morrison government was forced to recognise its obligation to fund frontline domestic violence services to tackle the increase in severity and prevalence of violence during the pandemic,” she told Guardian Australia.
“The pandemic hasn’t ended, and violence hasn’t either. The only thing that has ended is support from this government.
“Australian women are facing a shadow pandemic of domestic violence. They are desperate for support. We’ve heard reports of women disclosing violence and seeking help when going to vaccination appointments. There should be no further delays. The funds are needed on the ground now.”
• In Australia, the national family violence counselling service is on 1800 737 732.