New PM Malcolm Bligh Turnbull has announced measures against domestic violence will be number one priority in his newly rebadged ultra-conservative LNP government. After its makeover, that government is still mainly blokes with a few token sheilas added to cabinet on sufferance, but Prince Mal is promising a feminist twist. He will need to do a lot of repair work, however, if he is to convince us that his latest cheesecake sale is not the same old LNP stall with new window dressing.
Combating domestic violence, he says, will be the first priority for his patriarchal, fossil-fuelled, marriage equality squibbing government as it gears up for what experts tip will be an early election to take advantage of Mal’s honeymoon approval ratings. A hundred million dollars will be spent.
Pin money! The man’s personal bank account contains more than that. He could drop that on the Dapto Dogs and not miss it. But it is at least a different gesture from the nose-thumbing at women of his party’s former PM.
Tony Abbott, Turnbull’s misogynist predecessor, appointed himself Minister for Women as his own pointed snub towards any movement towards gender equality or taking women’s issues seriously. After two years, there is nothing to point to by the way of his achievements for women.
Worse, his inaction held back any real advances in the causes of gender equality or justice for women. A refusal to get real about dealing with the epidemic of family violence compounded the problem sending the wrong messages and betraying a cavalier disregard or at best an incapacity to understand the issues.
Abbott and the boys, with some help from some women, too, most notably the two Bishop politicians, showed their true colours in Opposition during their vile persecution of a woman who dared to be a PM, a woman who was able to negotiate a minority government among other achievements he could only dream of. By their deeds shall ye know them.
Abbott proceeded to cut funding for legal aid and women’s refuges. His real priorities lay with the boys and their toys.
In April 2014 Abbott announced Australia would acquire another 58 Joint Strike Fighters at a cost of around $90 million per plane, budgeting $24 billion to purchase and operate the aircraft until 2024. It was another of his infamous captain’s calls. Our paternalistic democracy is not the sort of democracy where the people have any say big ticket items like spending on new aircraft. It’s a pity because half of the population for starters might have a different set of priorities.
No-one is suggesting we disarm. Australia urgently needs to get involved in another costly drawn out US war in the Middle East, a war that is guaranteed to end badly. Again it’s something the people don’t have any say in. But just half of that $24 million would go a long way towards combating a real and present danger, the war on women, provided we don’t spend it all on awareness campaigns and further lining the pockets of well-heeled media and PR companies with links to the ruling patriarchy.
There are many other areas in which the federal government’s spending reveals its priorities. It is more important to subsidise a dying coal industry than it is to prevent women from being murdered by their partners. The Australian Conservation Foundation reminded us just how much Australians pay for fossil fuel subsidies. In December 2014 it estimated $47 billion would be allocated by the federal government to the production and use of fossil fuels over the following four years.
Turnbull’s announcement sounds impressive, even newsworthy at first, and that’s where he hopes most listeners will leave it. When you look a little more closely at Turnbull government’s cash splash, however, it is only a drop in the bucket. This is not to dismiss its value.
A range of services, will receive funding including $21 million to help Aboriginal women and women in remote communities. $5 million to the 1800-RESPECT line and funding to help improve training for frontline services. But the crisis calls for far more.
Real money needs to be spent on the front line. Every week three women are hospitalised with brain injuries as a result of family violence. Six women die each month. Last year more than 12000 men in NSW assaulted partners or former partners. Yet after a state review of services women’s refuges in NSW were told they couldn’t just reapply for their own service – if they wanted to retain their refuges, they would have to show they could provide multiple services to all homeless people in their area. Services can no longer be exclusively for victims of domestic violence – they now have to cater to all types of homelessness.
In Victoria, last year, police have had to attend 70,000 incidents of domestic violence, a figure double that of 2013.
It is ‘a national emergency,’ says Michaelia Cash our new Minister for Women. She has got that right but there is no word to describe the damage her government has done with its cuts to peak programmes. The Abbott government took out 300 million last year. Now the same python with a different head wants applause for putting one third of that back in nine months later?
The announcement of more funding is misleading. A con. The coalition government cut funding from domestic violence services last year. The then Minister for social services, Kevin Andrews slashed funding to affordable housing and crisis housing services a week before Christmas, defunding peak bodies such as Homelessness Australia and National Shelter.
Experts identify two urgent priorities, ‘the provision of safe, secure and affordable housing; and provision of a continuum of individualised and open-ended support, including outreach services, that wraps around women and their children in a range of areas (therapy, health, life skills, housing assistance et cetera) for as long as they need it.’
The least Malcolm Turnbull could do is to put back what his predecessor took away from women. Next he could follow up by explaining that today’s announcement is just a tiny down payment, on a real investment in a coordinated campaign. Now that he’s got our attention, he needs talk in specifics and to put his latest funding in context.
His government will spend $100 million dollar to tackle family violence, on measures to keep women safe in their homes and by providing mobile phones that can’t be tracked by abusers. In his announcement, however, Turnbull chooses to use the word ‘package’ with the connotation of a carefully thought out comprehensive wrap-around solution. Spare us the spin, Mr Turnbull. There is no ‘package’ from your government. At worst it is a cheap easy pre-election commitment, a token approach to women’s issues which rationalises neglect and effectively condones abuse.
Funding not only needs to be restored, massively increased and restructured into dedicated family violence funding, it needs to be integrated and guaranteed. We can do this when we are budgeting for military hardware or subsidising a coal mine but we cannot yet do it for the war on women that domestic violence represents. At present funding is piecemeal and fragmented across a range of agencies. It is less likely to be ongoing and it also serves to hide the real size of the emergency.
Finally, Turnbull could look to his language. As Clementine Ford points out today, the line that real men don’t abuse women is false. They do. Expecting men to somehow shame other men into being non-violent with their partners hasn’t worked.
Expecting men to improve their behaviour by dividing them into the good guys and the bad guys is wishful thinking – and counter-productive. An abuser is unlikely to give a toss if his PM calls his behaviour or even him ‘un-Australian.’ No amount of nagging appeals to masculinity however well intended are like to have any effect. For apart from the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, ‘raft of measures’ and the ‘packages’ we hear the PM bang on about to protect women against their violent menfolk, there is a curious reluctance to address the real cause of the problem. The behaviour of men.
It is not the other bloke who is un-Australian who is to blame Mr Turnbull, it is ourselves. Men are violent. Unless we men are prepared to acknowledge our individual and collective responsibility to change our violent behaviour, our toxic relationships, women will continue to suffer our brutality. You have made a positive announcement about funding. Now take the lead in the owning and sharing of the man problem and you will have taken a significant step in the long, difficult and expensive journey to solutions. Now that would be a vote-winner.