Executive Director Frances Crimmins on the ACT Budget

21 June 2017

The ACT Government recently handed down the 2017-2018 budget, and we have undertaken an analysis of what the implications are for local women, girls, and their families.

If you read the headlines, it’s clear what the Government has prioritised this year. It’s the tale of the ACT’s growing population, with an urgent need to meet growing demands by investing in transport, infrastructure, education and health. However, the question remains if this investment focus comes at the expense of the vulnerable people in Canberra, and if this budget will alleviate or compound growing social and economic inequality in the ACT?

This year’s budget has been broadly guided by the Parliamentary Agreement – a document of commitments that paved the way for the ACT Greens and ACT Labour to form Government. While we applaud the Government’s steadfast approach to delivering on its promises, we are concerned that this has been to the detriment of other commitments and strategies, notably the women’s plan, which has not received a single dollar of funding in its first year.

As the former Chair of the Ministerial Advisory Council on Women, I played a key role in the development of the Women’s Plan (2016-2021). The Plan was intended to be a guiding framework for a whole-of-government approach to addressing key issues impacting women and girls in the Territory. The Plan delegates responsibilities to each ACT Government directorate, allowing them to achieve their own gender equality outcomes, and to apply a gendered analysis to understand how all policies and programmes impact women.

However, the ACT Government’s total disregard for adequately resourcing the Office for Women and the implementation of this plan, leaves the future of Canberra women and girls hanging on lip service, and a tick box exercise. YWCA Canberra’s Pre-Budget Consultation Submission called on the ACT Government to appropriately resource the Office for Women, and for the Chief Minister’s department to drive this agenda across Government departments.

The ACT Government reaffirmed its commitment to addressing domestic violence by continuing funding for the Safer Families Package, with the announcement that the Family Safety Hub will now link up existing family violence services to provide a more holistic and integrated response for women experiencing violence. This is a necessary initiative that will benefit women, allowing them to access required services in a complex system.

However, these measures must be complimented with investment in primary and secondary prevention strategies to tackle the root causes of domestic violence. YWCA Canberra’s firm stance on investing in primary and secondary prevention initiatives is backed by international evidence, demonstrating that violence is preventable, which is crucial to the long-term goal of achieving gender equality.

There is emerging evidence that education of young people and children is crucial to ending the cycle of violence. It is therefore alarming to see that the funding for Respectful Relationships curriculum has now ceased, just when other States across Australia are increasing their investments in primary prevention education in schools. For example, last year the Victorian Government invested $21.8 million dollars of funding to roll out the Respectful Relationships curriculum.

The ACT Government’s commitment to tackling bullying, particularly experienced by LGBTQI students, is evident in their sustained funding to the Safer Schools package. However, a holistic curriculum needs to explicitly recognize and address inequality, gender and power and how they are linked to gender based violence.

Comprehensive curriculums such as Respectful Relationships have been proven to promote more egalitarian relationships, which are characterised by shared decision-making and reduced violence. To achieve these longer-term outcomes beyond the playground, the ACT Government must commit to implementing a holistic curriculum that is part of a broader strategy in preventing violence.

YWCA Canberra is calling on the ACT Government to proactively include women in the future of this city, and to ensure they are equal contributors and beneficiaries to Canberra’s growth and expansion. Gender equality cannot wait – future budgets will continue to fail women until a regulatory approach is taken where all decisions are considered through a gendered lens.

We will continue to work hard to hold the ACT Government accountable to the commitments it has made to women, and we will work closely with the Office for Women to demonstrate solutions and opportunities for the ACT to lead Australia in achieving gender equality.

You can find out more about YWCA Canberra’s policy priorities here.

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