During a year in which domestic and family violence rates have skyrocketed, the Morrison government has quietly slashed more than a million dollars from its anti-domestic violence education program in Australian schools.
The 2020-21 budget papers reveal the government has more than halved its funding commitment to the Respect Matters program in schools, by $1,437,000 over three years.
In 2019, the government announced it would spend $2.8 million delivering Respect Matters over a three-year period up to 2022.
However, the Education, Skills and Employment Portfolio budget statement for 2020-21, released last week, shows only $1.363 million has been promised over the same period in the current budget. The document shares no explanation for the slashed funding.
Respect Matters is an online learning platform for educators and students that provides professional learning modules on concepts like consent and respectful relationships. The platform is hosted on the Student Wellbeing Hub, accessible to all Australian schools.
The program was first established as a component of the 2015 Women’s Safety Package, announced as a long-term educational measure by then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
In March 2019, Education Minister Dan Tehan announced $2.8 million to deliver the Respect Matters program, claiming it would support teachers to educate students about safety, respectful relationships and why violence is wrong.
“We will provide teachers with resources to help young people as they learn how to deal with issues like self-respect, respect for others, and value of fostering positive relationships throughout their lives,” Tehan said.
“Parents want to know that teachers have the best tools to deal with issues like bullying, violence and wellbeing and this funding will help ensure that.
“The Morrison Government is keeping Australians safe by investing in educating children about the importance of respecting others and why violence is wrong.”
The funding cut to Respect Matters comes as Australia faces a domestic and family violence emergency, one that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. We know, on average, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner.
According to researchers at Destroy the Joint, 38 women have been killed due to violence against women this year. From the age of fifteen, one in 4 Australian women has experienced physical or sexual violence by a current or former partner.
A recent survey from the Australian Institute of Criminology of 15,000 Australian women found that 8.8 per cent of women reported experiencing physical or sexual violence from a co-habiting, current or former partner since the pandemic began. For many women, it marked the first time they had experienced this kind of abuse.
Shadow Minister for Education and Training Tanya Plibersek said by cutting funding for anti-domestic violence education, the government is sending the wrong message to Australian kids.
“Domestic violence and sexual assault are at epidemic levels, yet Scott Morrison could not explain why he is slashing funding for anti-sexual assault and anti-domestic violence education for young Australians,” Plibersek said.
“This sends exactly the wrong message.”
There is also a discrepancy in the government’s 2019-20 funding commitment to Respect Matters. Despite announcing via a media release and the education portfolio budget statement that $2.8 million would be provided over three years, the education program expenses report from that period accounts for only $2.5 million dedicated to the delivering the program.