Prime Minister Scott Morrison must deal with gendered violence in this country head on, first by publishing secret data on the true financial cost of the life-long pain inflicted against women and their families.
For the past month, the government has been plagued by allegations of rape, the mistreatment of women and sex scandals by Liberal staffers.
At first it seemed that Mr Morrison was away on holidays in Hawaii as a media fire began raging out of control on unaddressed women’s equality and domestic violence issues.
From his perspective, Mr Morrison may have thought that the problem (one that’s impacted multiple generations) would simply burn out.
But he has underestimated the anger and hurt felt by too many women — and now the levy is about to break around him.
Without meaningful and dramatic action by the government, any tears from Mr Morrison’s emotional family trigger chest will be met with a ‘so what?’, particularly when you consider that the government is still refusing to release data that it commissioned over a year ago, which details the rising cost of domestic violence in this country.
The Federal Government commissioned KPMG to provide an update to its 2016 report titled, The cost of violence against women and their children in Australia, and the research was provided to the Department of Social Services at the start of last year – prior to lockdowns in March.
This KPMG report would have been the first report of its kind released under the Scott Morrison government.
Indeed had it been released, he may have been more informed to act, and less inclined to have to rely on the emotional triggers that come with picturing your wife, daughters and mother in an Australia where violence takes the life of one woman a week.
As I have long maintained, without adequate, timely and publicly available research, it becomes easier for a government to deny a growing problem under their watch.
It also means that victims of domestic violence (DV) are denied a voice, and a culture of gender inequality against women is perpetuated.
It also becomes more difficult to measure and address the severity of Australia’s growing problem.
“First and foremost this is a matter of human rights and dignity,” says Social Outcomes economists Nicki Hutley. “If the government can’t understand that, then they should understand the economic costs of failing to act in terms of the lack of productivity for these women – these costs are enormous.
“It’s not just the loss of life, women suffer from absenteeism and presentism – where they are at work but are so deeply affected that they can’t function properly. Then these are the mental health impacts which affect women and children for the rest of their lives,” says Hutley.
In 2016, KPMG noted:
- The cost of violence against women and their children in Australia is $22 billion in 2015-16.
- Victims and survivors bear $11.3 billion, or 52 per cent, of the total costs.
- The Australian Government, state and territory governments bear $4.1 billion or 19 per cent of the total costs.
- The community, children of women experiencing violence, the perpetrators, employers, and friends and family bear $6.5 billion, or 29 per cent, of the total costs.
- Underrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, pregnant women, women with disability, and women who are homeless within national prevalence estimates may add a further $4 billion to the cost of violence against women and their children in Australia in 2015-16.
As I wrote throughout last year, COVID-19 has made gender violence even worse for many women and children who were spending more time trapped living with abusers.
Since the Federal Government announced compulsory lockdowns in March of last year, the number of cases of domestic violence and the severity of abuse has increased significantly.
Chronic underfunding to family violence legal assistance and support services has also stretched organisations to breaking point, Women’s Legal Services Australia has warned.
Julie Kun CEO of WIRE Women’s Information, which helps victims of abuse, says if the government has new data on the rising cost of violence against women in Australia it must be made available.
“Transparency is a good thing and we should be able to see it [data] and it will help us better inform how we deal with this thing that is family violence.”
An online survey of 15,000 women published in July last year by the Institute of Criminology found that two-thirds of women who experienced physical or sexual violence by a current or former cohabiting partner since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic said the violence had started or escalated in the three months prior to the survey.
Many front line agencies that help women and families experiencing domestic violence say abuse cases have basically doubled since the March Covid-lockdowns began.
If you or someone you know needs help or advice call the national sexual assault, family and domestic violence counselling service 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732. The service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
In an emergency call 000.
You can also call the Men’s Referral Service on 1300 766 491 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.