Women's Refuges Petition Discussion
(Discussion on petition with over 10,000 signatures, 19 November 2014, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
Women's and girls' refuges in the inner city help vulnerable people to get off the street and back on their feet. They provide shelter and counselling, medical and referral services. There are many reasons why women and children can become homeless, including the need to flee family violence, the need to deal with childhood abuse and neglect, and drug and alcohol addiction.
In fact, every year thousands of women and children are homeless in New South Wales. From speaking to homeless people in my electorate, I know they recently have noticed an increase in the number of women who are rough sleeping. The inner city must continue to provide services because people who are escaping violence, trauma and grief always come to the city for anonymity and services so they do not become homeless.
The Government's planned Going Home Staying Home reforms would have resulted in the closure of inner Sydney refuges with funding transferred to outer regions and implementation of a new ongoing competitive tender process for the remaining inner-city services. I understand that in some refuges the tender process resulted in the loss of staff and service hours being cut. Some new operators did not have experience operating women's refuges. I am pleased that the Minister listened to the concerns and acted to keep inner-city services open at the same level. I welcome restored funding to Detour House, Young Peoples Refuge, B Miles, Stepping Out and the Community Restorative Centre's women's program. Those organisations have demonstrated that they can help vulnerable women and girls through difficult circumstances. Their established expertise will ensure that this assistance is continued.
Compassion and common sense have prevailed in the inner city. The cuts were overturned in response to a strong community campaign that I was proud to support. I commend the SOS Women's Services for its work with the Minister to reinstate funding for inner-city women's refuges. The SOS campaign drew attention to the negative impacts of de-funding specialist services in the inner city and activated the wider community, resulting in a strong parliamentary petition, which we are now discussing, with nearly 15,000 signatures. I acknowledge Roxanne McMurray and Kate Timmins from the SOS Women's Services, who are present in the gallery today. Signatures were collected from hospitals, sexual assault units, charities, lawyers' offices, Country Women's Association branches, and Probus and Rotary groups across the State. The Minister says that restoring funding will give services more time to adjust to the reforms. This must not mean that services will close in three years time.
I believe that everyone in the House values the work of women's and girls' refuges and understands why they must continue to operate. There are still refuges under threat and specialist services still may be forced to close. I hope the size of this petition sends a strong signal to the Government to work to keep those vital services operating. One of the greatest concerns about the Going Home Staying Home reforms was the lack of consultation. While some were consulted, the majority of those who work for, or with, affected services say they were not. They could have raised alarm over what they saw as flawed and dangerous proposals. I support the contention of SOS Services that future reforms must involve proper consultation with all experts on the ground, not just peak bodies. Specialisation must be recognised and continued. [Time expired.].