OPINION: Domestic violence victims need more help

Anita Barker, from the Toronto Aboriginal Community Justice Group, is a renowned activist within the local indigenous community.IT is a tragic reality that domestic violence continues to plague our communities. And while efforts to bring it into the open are having a positive effect, our work is not done.

There are some individuals and organisations making a difference.

Anita Barker, from the Toronto Aboriginal Community Justice Group, is a renowned activist within the local indigenous community.

She tells me that some years ago, she realised family violence was not being spoken about enough within the Aboriginal community.

So she created the Koori Love Shouldn’t Hurt domestic violence forum, now in its fourth year.

The one-day forum has discussions and guest speakers – some of whom are perpetrators andvictims of domestic violence, and service providers.

Each year ambassadors are appointed, such as sportspeople and prominent local identities. They talk about how young men can become good partners, and spread the message that violence against women has no place in Aboriginal culture, or our society more broadly.

It is a tribute to the program that the Toronto Aboriginal Community Justice Group was nominated in the 2014 Aboriginal Justice Awards, presented this week.

Of course, this is just one initiative that is helping raise awareness. The White Ribbon Day and Reclaim the Night events are familiar to us all.

Our laws must provide the most appropriate framework to tackle this problem. And when they don’t, we must not remain silent.

Recently, I met with a young woman who fled a violent relationship, moving interstate to escape the abuse. Like many in her situation, she maintains contact with the father of her children to satisfy access arrangements.

When her partner’s intimidating behaviour continued, she found the legal safety net that is supposed to protect her – an apprehended violence order – could not be enforced across state borders.

In the civil system, there are mechanisms in place to serve subpoenas outside of the jurisdiction in which the matter is going to be heard, and I have written to the Attorney-General to ask about extending similar exemptions to situations like this.

Policy decisions such as these, made both here and by our state counterparts, have the greatest effect for organisations working in the social and community sector.

I note that the NSW government has embarked on the Going Home, Staying Home reform package, which seeks commercial tenders from organisations to deliver specialist women’s domestic violence and homelessness services.

While the extra funding tied to these reforms is commendable, the unfortunate consequence is that smaller organisations – such as the Warlga Ngurra Women and Children’s Centre in Wallsend – will miss out on funding because they simply cannot compete with larger organisations.

The changes also stipulate that services are to be delivered across the board to women and children, as well as men.

When so many women at risk of homelessness are fleeing a domestic violence situation, eliminating women-only services could be a very real barrier in a woman’s choice to seek help.

Pat Conroy is federal member for Charlton. This is a version of an address to Parliament this week.

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