Victims of family and domestic violence will now be able to strip up to $10,000 from their retirement savings to fund their own crisis response under a new Morrison government scheme which will be rolled out over coming weeks.
The policy is being described by the government’s Minister for Superannuation, Financial Services and the Digital Economy Jane Hume as a compassionate measure that “will complement the government’s existing initiatives to prevent and respond to family and domestic violence.”
Such “existing initiatives” do not include any form of paid family and domestic violence leave, which countless organisations and services have highlighted as a critical component to support victims which the government has long resisted legislating.
“People trying to escape family and domestic violence need genuine support from their government, not to be told to ransack their retirement savings,” ACTU President Michelle O’Neil says. “The Morrison Government should stop outsourcing its responsibility and do its job. It should stop ignoring calls for 10 days paid family and domestic violence leave.”
With women currently retiring with less than half the superannuation of men, this policy will only serve to widen a cataclysmic gap. There are fears it will force low income workers into a dire predicament in which safety and security can only be achieved through financial ruin.
The government’s policy announced last March which enabled early access of superannuation during the pandemic, saw 1.5 million women strip money from their retirement safety net with 350,000 emptying their accounts.
“This is a cruel and discriminatory policy which will further entrench the truly appalling gender gap on super and effectively punish those who have survived family and domestic violence when they retire,” says O’Neil.
But the draft statement said the policy would act as a “last resort lifeline” for victims. “Extending early access to superannuation, in addition to other support, can provide an important last resort lifeline needed to begin the recovery process in a safe environment” it said.
The policy will coincide with the government’s legislated framework to ensure visibility of superannuation in family courts, and by the ATO during divorce proceedings.
Labor’s superannuation spokesperson Stephen Jones told Fairfax that the opposition was supportive of such transparency measures but opposed to early superannuation access for victims of family violence.
“Forcing a domestic violence victim to raid their super exposes already vulnerable women to further harm,” he said, adding that abusers could potentially exploit the policy for themselves.
Hume said the government would seek feedback from stakeholders and representative groups to ensure safeguards against this.
This announcement comes off the back of a national protest yesterday in which hundreds of thousands of Australians marched for justice on women’s rights including a national rally at parliament house.
Neither the Prime Minister nor the Minister for Women, Marise Payne attended.