Fighting domestic violence shouldn't mean revoking Aboriginal rights

Rosie Batty: "Let's put it in its context, this is terrorism in Australia".

Rosie Batty: "Let's put it in its context, this is terrorism in Australia". Photo: Thom Rigney

Australian of the year Rosie Batty was right to criticise the federal government's allocation of a mere $16 million over three years to family violence in last week's budget. By comparison, more than a billion dollars was set aside for national security measures, an issue that is arguably costing fewer Australian lives at the present time. 

Yet, when it comes to introducing oppressive legislation on the basis of race, state and federal governments suddenly seem to become incredibly concerned about violence against women. West Australian Premier Colin Barnett recently sited the high rates of domestic and family violence as justification for the proposed closure of between 100 and 150 communities.

If preventing violence against women really does justify the shutting down of remote communities, why is a women's shelter which services 50 remote communities on the Dampier Peninsula having to wind up operations in a month's time due to lack of funding? The Djarindjin safe house - a community-driven shelter run by women who have themselves escaped violence – had a funding renewal application knocked back by the Federal Government, according to the ABC report. The region stands to lose not only a key support mechanism for women, but also a model of self-determination and culturally-appropriate service delivery.

"If the governments truly believe the safety of Aboriginal women to be paramount, why are the very services which save ...

"If the governments truly believe the safety of Aboriginal women to be paramount, why are the very services which save lives underfunded?" Photo: Kate Geraghty

Even if remote Aboriginal women believed the governments were acting in their interests, there are still no guarantees they will be able to access appropriate support in more populated regions. Last year, the family of Andrea Pickett, a Perth-based mother murdered by her estranged husband in 2009, took action against the West Australian government and police for repeatedly failing to act upon reports of restraining order breaches, despite Ms Pickett stating she feared for her life. Additionally, the day before she was murdered, Ms Pickett had been told by Crisis Care they were unable to provide her with accommodation.


Likewise, the family of 18-year-old Perth resident Colleen Tae Ford say police were aware she was a victim of domestic violence two months before she was murdered by her partner in October 2013. It is alleged police took a statement when Ms Ford was hospitalised from a beating and resultant still-birth, yet failed to act upon it. Both of these cases are devastating and, in both circumstances, it is alleged these women were failed by the systems supposed to protect them, despite being city-based and apparently having services at their disposal.

In a recent partial retraction of his previous statements, Premier Barnett said his aim was to create a "hub and orbit" scenario where larger centres were better resourced and smaller communities could access these services more readily, similar to what operates in parts of the Northern Territory. I do wonder whether he looked at NT examples closely.

While the safety of Aboriginal women was used as a justification for Northern Territory Intervention measures introduced by the Howard Government, only last week the Alice Springs Women's Shelter was reported as struggling to cope with the sheer level of demand for their service, with Aboriginal women significantly over-represented as clients. Likewise, it was reported in 2010 that Indigenous women in the NT were being hospitalised for assault at 80 times the rate of non-Indigenous women. NT services which support victims of violence and rehabilitate offenders are stretched due to the ongoing demands of servicing large areas on limited resources.

If the governments truly believe the safety of Aboriginal women to be paramount, why are the very services which save lives underfunded or not being implemented in as many communities as possible? Are the plights of Aboriginal women merely being used as a smokescreen by the governments while they try to introduce laws to further negate Aboriginal rights? Also, considering how comparatively low the federal funding is for domestic violence initiatives, the lives of women in general appear to not be of great importance to governments. The chances of them, therefore, really caring about Aboriginal women are slim.

Aboriginal women make up at least 11 per cent of the 37 victims listed in the Counting Dead Women tally this year, despite accounting for less than three per cent of the Australian female population. Yet, it appears vulnerable Aboriginal women will be left wanting services while alternate government agendas play out. It's a travesty and, until Aboriginal women do matter to these governments, the toll will continue to grow.

Celeste Liddle will be appearing at the Women of the World Festival in Brisbane from 9-21 June. It's a weekend program of talks, speed mentoring and cultural activities. For information on tickets and program details, visit WOW Brisbane.