Now is the time

THE chief excecutive of Annie North Women’s refuge says a royal commission into family violence should have bipartisan support and not be about politics.

Julie Oberin is calling on the state government to follow the Victorian Labor Party’s lead and put its support behind the idea, “using some of their forecast surplus to fund it”.

Ms Oberin said all levels of government and the community needed to understand that with raised awareness of the issue,  “more and more women are seeking help from services and challenging controlling and manipulative behaviour from their abusers’’.

But services providing help to those women are at capacity, including Annie North women's refuge.

The state government has had a large parcel of land put aside in Bendigo since a feasibility study was done in 2011 for a new cluster model refuge, but the project has not yet received the capital works funding to go ahead.

The new purpose-built complex will be a secure women’s refuge facility rather than a high security refuge, giving local and regional families access to safe and supportive accommodation until the criminal justice system deals with the behaviour of the abuser, and when he decides to abide by those rules and sanctions.

“The new purpose built refuge facility in Bendigo will provide safety and support to more women and children seeking help at this unsafe time,’’ Ms Oberin said. 

“It will provide us with greater capacity to shelter and provide support to Bendigo and local women and their children. 

“The new facility will provide much-improved capacity and facilities, which is critically needed here.’’

Annie North has been lobbying for the new purpose built cluster model for many years.

Proceeds of the 2008 Bendigo mayoral ball were raised for the new Annie North refuge and are still sitting in the organisation’s donation account waiting for the development to be built.

“It was the first ball for a long time and raised more than $32,000 specifically for the purpose-built cluster model,’’ Ms Oberin said.

“At that stage we thought we would have to buy land as it was prior to DHS allocating their block to us.  We regularly get small cash donations from members of the community, CWA, perpetrators ordered to pay their fine to us, social clubs. 

“Now it has eventuated that DHS identified a perfectly suitable block of land they already owned and have put it aside for our development, they will build the facility and own it and hold title.’’

Annie North will use the funds raised to install a computer lab, an audiovisual system for the soundproof room, disability supports, Wi-Fi, buy educational toys for children and furnishings to make the environment comfortable and welcoming.

Annie North will also use the funds raised to install a sensory garden for women and children to help them heal from the trauma. 

“Some of the work we do with children is around feeling and expressing emotions,’’ Ms Oberin said.

“A garden where we can explore feelings associated with touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste will be a great tool for us and a nice place.’’

The funds could also go towards a quiet meditation or prayer space,  barbecue and children’s playground areas, art and music equipment for art and music therapy, activity poles and equipment for gentle exercise, a vegetable garden and a chook yard.

A pet enclosure would also allow families to take their pets where appropriate

Ms Oberin said the time to fund the refuge was now and the ALP’s promise to hold a royal commission into family violence showed leadership that should be followed.

“This will be the first in Australia and it is absolutely timely - enough is enough,’’ she said. 

“It shows leadership and is symbolic that this issue is a national disaster for women and children across Australia at risk from someone in their family.’’

Ms Oberin said she was disappointed by the response of Minister for Community Services, Mary Wooldridge, that the royal commission was a waste of money.

“I can only compare it to thinking does she also think the Royal Commission into Black Saturday was a waste of money,’’ she said.

“Not only does it neglect empathy with the epidemic of violence against women and their children but it shows that she is not taking the issue seriously enough to invest now into preventing this travesty. 

“I would like to see the state government put their support behind the call for the Royal Commission and use some of their forecast surplus to fund it.  This should have bipartisan support.  The focus should be on the issue.’’

“It doesn’t make sense if we can have a Royal Commission into four tragic deaths from the Home Insulation Scheme if we can’t have one when more than one woman a week is murdered nationally at the hands of someone she knows. 

“According to DVVic there were 29 family violence related murders in Victoria alone over the last year - many of these were children’’.

JUST BUILD IT: Full campaign coverage. WOMEN are being sent back to potentially lethal situations every night  because refuges cannot meet demand. The state government has had a block of land in Bendigo to build a refuge for the past three years but it appears there are no plans to start the project. 

NEWS REVIEW: Violence against women and children an epidemic.

DRAFT: A concept plan of the complex Annie North women's refuge hopes to soon build.

DRAFT: A concept plan of the complex Annie North women's refuge hopes to soon build.

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