7 June 2019
While Chief Minister and Treasurer, Andrew Barr used the 2019-2020 ACT Budget to remind us that local economic growth continues to be strong, Canberra remains one of the most expensive cities in which to rent, particularly for those on low incomes or social security payments. For many Canberrans, public and social housing are the only options but with waitlists growing, they can be very hard to access.
For these reasons, YWCA Canberra welcomes the 2019-2020 ACT Budget’s ongoing investment in public housing and affordable housing. Investment in affordable housing remains crucial to getting Canberrans into sustainable, long-term housing and we welcome the Budget’s investment into housing initiatives to meet the increasing demands of our population. The latest investment will see the ACT Government’s public housing stock increase by 200 dwellings.
In line with the recommendations from our Leading the Change Report (2016), the ACT Government also announced, in March of this year, legislative reform that would allow land tax exemptions to private investors who lease their properties through community housing providers, including YWCA Canberra, at less than 75 per cent market rate. This important reform allowed us to launch our charitable housing project Rentwell, which will boost the numbers of affordable rental properties in Canberra. Significantly, this reform allows everyday Canberrans to be part of our affordable housing solutions. Our housing solutions, like Rentwell, address housing stress amongst those who struggle in the private rental market, but who remain ineligible for public or social housing.
YWCA Canberra Chief Executive Officer, Frances Crimmins said “we’re pleased to be a part of this trial and have received an overwhelming response from philanthropic property owners and prospective tenants in our first month of operation. We urge the government to lift the current cap of 100 properties to grow the affordable rental market to the meet strong demand we are seeing”.
We also welcomed the announcement of a Justice Housing Program that will provide accommodation for women and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Canberrans to help build better life outcomes after serving their custodial sentences. After discussions with ACT Government representatives, we are aware that consultation on this measure will take place over the coming year and we look forward to being part of these discussions.
We are disappointed that a Women’s Budget Statement was not released as part of the tranche of budget papers today. Women’s Budget Statements are an important means to measure resource allocation against the government’s own gender equity goals as outlined in the ACT Women’s Plan 2016-2026 and were a feature of ACT Budgets up until 2008. A comprehensive gender analysis on budget measures means each budget initiative and funding allocation or cut is considered alongside the gender equity goals of government and women’s broader inclusion.
Despite the ACT Government releasing a document called the “Women’s Budget Statement” some days after the Budget, this document seems to be an analysis free, repackaging of initiatives announced on Budget Day that also includes mainstream measures which are not targeted explicitly to women and is not the standard expected by the community. For example, this document highlights an investment for nurses and midwives to mitigate targeted occupational violence and aggression. While initiatives that aim to make workplaces safer are inherently welcomed by YWCA Canberra, Frances Crimmins said “we fail to see how this measure fits into a proper gender analysis as it will presumably be delivered in a way that mitigates all workplace violence. Unfortunately, including this measure in the statement pigeon-holes women in the health service as nurses and nurses and midwives as women.”
YWCA Canberra is similarly perplexed by the inclusion of measures related to those serving custodial sentences at the Alexander Maconochie Centre. Without a gendered analysis, we are not able to determine the impact investments such as the Bail Support Program and the expansion of the Justice Health Service will have on women. With women representing roughly 7.5 per cent (ABS 2018) of the population at AMC, however, we suspect this investment has not been designed explicitly to deliver outcomes for the women inmates.
Given the disappointing nature of this statement, we will continue to lobby the ACT Government for the release of a Women’s Budget Statement, in line with the last one released by the ACT Government in 2008 and also delivered by federal Labor in 2019.
As the initial four-year pilot program under the Family Safety Hub comes to completion, the Government has announced new research initiatives to be pursued by the Hub and funded under the Safer Families Levy. These new initiatives are targeted toward family centred responses for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families impacted by family violence; support for pregnant women at risk of domestic and family violence and extending the Room4Change program to prevent family violence. This new work will also see an investment in training for ACT Government frontline workers to respond to family violence, and we look forward to more detail about how this training will be delivered and what it will look like.
Frances Crimmins said that the work of the Family Safety Hub remains critical as a means to explore best practice, particularly in how we can work together to prevent housing crisis amongst those who experience family violence.
“We know that domestic and family violence is a major precursor to women seeking housing support and rates of homelessness and housing crisis amongst women who have experienced domestic and family violence remain high. I’m pleased to see that the Family Safety Hub will be exploring this nexus between family violence and homelessness and will be drawing upon relevant expertise from those in financial services, housing and the women’s sector.”
Despite this, the lack of substantial investment in community-led support services for women experiencing domestic violence is concerning. There remains a need for investment in relation to sexual, domestic and family violence that goes beyond the revenue generated by the Safer Families Levy. This substantial investment needs to consider client diversity as well as primary prevention methods, the needs of children and youth and the capacities of crisis support services to keep pace with growing demand.
Frances said that “YWCA Canberra will continue to advocate for primary prevention initiatives, like Respectful Relationships Education, to reduce the rates of domestic and family violence and for the unique needs of culturally diverse women, children and young people to be considered. Furthermore, funding certainty for specialist community support services, which are often the first contact point for women in crisis, is critical for the continuation of their important work and for providing certainty and effective support for their client base.”
 See Women’s Centre for Health Matters (2018) ‘The stories of ACT women in prison: 10 years after the opening of the AMC’, pg. 9.