We will build it: Annie North windfall

ANNIE NORTH WELCOMES FUNDS: A place of hope and dignity

RELATED: Just build it campaign

UPDATE: THE state government has announced $3 million for a new Bendigo refuge for women and children fleeing violence.

In Bendigo to make the announcement yesterday, Premier Denis Napthine said family violence was "a scourge on our society'' and the funding would allow Annie North to plan and build a new, safe secure facility for families who are victims of family violence.

"To provide greater capacity, greater security and better quality facilities so that those victims of family violence will be given a chance to be safe, given a chance to rebuild their lives, their confidence ... at the same time use the networks they already have as a building block to transform to a new and a safer life,'' he said.

Dr Napthine said Annie North had long offered refuge for victims of family violence, but the facilities were no longer able to meet demand.

"The facility they currently provide some of their services from, particularly housing for victims who have to seek safe secure housing, that facility is an older facility which has well and truly passed its used by date, a facility that’s not large enough to cater for the demands of this community,'' he said.

"Annie North is a well respected organisation that does really terrific work dealing with people who are tragically and unfortunately victims of family violence, providing support for those people, providing counselling, providing the physical needs for those people and in particuarly providing safe, secure accommodation for those families who need that.''

The premier said the new refuge, which will be a tastefully-designed wall community of seven units and room for expansion, would "enable families to be safe from family violence but at the same time to enable those families in Bendigo and this region to still remain and have those connections that are vital, particulary for children going to school, particularly for victims of family violence who need ongoing support of their friends and their community networks''.

"All of that is vital so that victims of family violence aren’t victims upon victims upon victims by being penalised and penalised and penalised because they have to leave their friends, leave their surroundings, leave their schools particularly because they are victims of family violence – that is a double tragedy,'' he said.

Dr Napthine said a whole-of-government approach was needed to address family violence, and education was a pivotal aspect of that.

"Making sure the community fully understands it is not acceptable to perpetrate any form of violence, whether it be physical violence, emotional or psychological violence against other family members and particularly in most cases the victims are women and children,'' he said.

The premier said it was important police were sufficiently resourced and there was an understanding that family violence was a crime and "ought to be dealt with to the full extent of the law – a justice system that treats family violence seriously''.

Housing Minister Wendy Lovell said "we would all regret that facilities like this are actually needed in our community, but we all acknowledge that unfortunately they are and we want to provide the right environment for women and children when they do need assistance and they need the support''.

The premier made the announcement after a meeting by the Department of Human Services capital committee on Wednesday. The committee made a decision to fund the refuge on Thursday, before Dr Napthine and Ms Lovell made the announcement on Friday.

Annie North women’s refuge was told before Christmas last year plans for a new cluster model refuge for women and children fleeing violence had “elevated’’ on the Department of Human Services list of priorities.

The organisation’s understanding was the project had reached the top of the list.

The message was delivered via the Department of Human Services, after a series of meetings in the weeks before.

The state government owns a large parcel of land in Bendigo that has been set aside for the development since a feasibility study was done in 2011, but Annie North Women’s Refuge is still waiting for capital funding to build the facility.

Annie North chief executive Julie Oberin met with Member for Northern Victoria and now state government minister, Damian Drum, in October.

Mr Drum then wrote to the Minister for Housing, Wendy Lovell, and Minister for Community Services, Mary Wooldridge, before following up those letters with conversations about the project.

It was then that Ms Oberin received a call saying the project had elevated.

But on the day before the 2014/15 State Budget was handed down, the women’s refuge was told the project had stalled.

When the Bendigo Advertiser contacted Minister Lovell’s office, the issue was referred to the Department of Human Services, who gave the following statement: 

"Annie North is not a State Budget funded project - it is project that is being considered by the department from the existing amount that the government invests each year in social housing.

"This is a day-to-day matter and the department will continue to work with the agency on the merits of the project. Capital funding decisions are subject to strict departmental governance mechanisms - this is very important to ensure the best use of public funding and to maximise benefits to vulnerable Victorians from the social housing portfolio.  

"Our key directions in the recently released Social Housing Framework aim to have better assets and improve governance arrangements.

"The Annie North project is being considered by the department in accordance with existing governance mechanisms. 

"It is important that due consideration is given to all projects so we make sure our social housing portfolio is best suited to the clients it services.''

Dr Napthine yesterday said the decision to fund the refuge was made by a proper process, and was not a politically motivated decision.

He said it was managed by the department through proper processes "based on the great work of Annie North, the great submissions and campaign that they have run to argue their case through proper departmental processes, to justify this investment''.

Member for Bendigo West Maree Edwards said the announcement would not have happened without significant community pressure.

"It’s taken Denis Napthine three-and-a-half years to fund this facility and only now, in the wake of Labor’s announcement of the Royal Commission and community pressure, has he done it,'' she said.

"This announcement just shows he only acts when the pressure is on.''

Member for Bendigo East Jacinta Allan said she had been working with Annie North for some time.

"We have significant concerns this wouldn't be enough money to get the job done and get it done properly,'' she said.

"Labor will have more to say in the near future about they need.''

UPDATE 9.45am:  Premier Denis Napthine said the Department of Human Services capital committee met earlier this week and recommended the Annie North refuge project receive funding to progress to the construction stage.

“Annie North provides an important service supporting women and children experiencing family violence through crisis accommodation, transition accommodation and assistance in establishment funding for housing," Dr Napthine said.

 “The new Annie North refuge will be built on government owned land and  will double the capacity of the existing facility. It will provide a safe and secure facility in a supportive environment for vulnerable women and children who are escaping from family violence.

Minister for Housing Wendy Lovell said while the existing facility had served the community well,  the new Annie North refuge would provide a more modern and more comfortable setting for those in need.

 “The current property is more than 100 years old and, while it provides  shared living arrangements for up to three families, it does not currently meet the needs of women and children who are in crisis or those with physical disabilities.”

 Members for Northern Victoria Damian Drum and Amanda Millar both welcomed the funding.

 “While it is regrettable that such services are required in our community,  I’m pleased that this funding will lead to better outcomes for women and children," Mr Drum said.

 "This facility will deliver a supportive environment and will assist in  eliminating the isolation women can often feel in these situations,” Ms Millar said.

EARLIER: 

The premier will be in Bendigo today to announce funding for the new Annie North Refuge in Bendigo.

The state government has confirmed the refuge will receive $3 million.

Afterwards he will announce a $100 million package for the new Bendigo Kangan Institute

The Annie North Women's Refuge is a high-security women's refuge in Bendigo that has properties for women and children who are victims of domestic violence.

Planned support at the new cluster model includes education and school support and facilities designed to avoid women and children having to present in court.

The state government owns a large parcel of land in Bendigo that had been set aside for the development since a feasibility study was done in 2011, but Annie North Women’s Refuge has been waiting for capital funding to build the facility.

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