There has been much discussion of the one million plus temporary visa holders that aren’t covered under the JobKeeper package, who now – at a time when returning to their home countries is near impossible – are stuck in Australia with no employment or financial support.
But, what’s remained hidden within this story is the number of women in this cohort who are not only living in domestic violence situations, but are currently locked down with their abuser, without any monetary means for them or their children to escape.
Women’s Safety NSW has identified around 110 such women in this state. And it’s calling upon NSW domestic violence prevention minister Mark Speakman to consider their situation during the domestic violence COVID-19 taskforce meeting being held this Tuesday.
But, it’s not just this issue that women’s advocates are calling on the minister to address on 28 April, as soon the situation of many DV victims will be exacerbated following a slated Victims Services policy change that would have the opposite effect to its streamlining aim.
The NSW Women’s Alliance and Community Legal Centres NSW asserts that changes to the Victims Services claim lodgement process will result in victim-survivors being denied support. And these organisations want the minister to prevent this from happening, especially during the pandemic.
Locked down in abuse
In relation to the temporary visa holding women locked down with their abuser and lacking any financial means to escape, a Sydney outer metropolitan DV caseworker remarked that she didn’t know why the government doesn’t care about them or their babies.
“Don’t they understand that we’ve forcing them back into what can only be described as a living hell?” the WDVCAS worker declared. “No one would agree with this if they actually met one of these families.”
The Morrison government has told temporary visa workers that if they no longer find themselves with a job, they should then simply return to the country where they hold a passport. However, the now scarce flights are exorbitantly priced and the borders of some nations are completely closed.
And while the Tasmanian government has just announced its implementing a $3 million temporary visa holder support package, the Berejiklian government has done nothing of the sort.
In a 24 April briefing paper, Women’s Safety NSW points out that temporary visa holders living in domestic violence situations, who have suddenly lost their employment due to the lockdown, have basically been told to remain at home 24/7 with their abusive partner.
Heightened by the virus
The majority of frontline domestic violence caseworkers recently surveyed by Women’s Safety NSW indicated that the issues being faced by these women with temporary visas in DV situations are being exacerbated due to the pandemic lockdown.
These issues include loss of work, their ineligibility to receive income support, limited housing options without being able to access crisis accommodation, language barriers and their inability to actually return to the countries where they hold passports.
Ninety eight percent of caseworkers surveyed said a support package would be of great assistance to these women. And this would not merely assist with fleeing violent situations, but it would also help with their daily survival needs.
“These families will be left the unacceptable choice of either staying with their abuser or fleeing into homelessness and abject poverty,” the briefing paper concludes. “Within the COVID-19 crisis, the consequences of such are even more horrendous.”
The peak body is calling on DV minister Mark Speakman to provide some sort of help to these women as a government-assisted safe path out of violence should not be dependent on visa status.
Victims to miss out
Meanwhile, Community Legal Centres NSW and the NSW Women’s Alliance are calling on the state government to put a halt to proposed changes to the way victim-survivors access assistance from Victims Services.
Part of the NSW Justice Department, Victims Services allows victims of crime to access support in terms of counselling and financial assistance, as well as providing assistance to the family and friends of missing persons.
As part of a move to streamline its services, this government agency is set to change the process for victim-survivors when they’re making an application for such assistance.
At present, those eligible can build their evidence for a claim with the assistance of support staff over a set period of time.
However, the process is about to be changed so that victim-survivors need to front up with all their evidence compiled from the outset of the lodgement of their claim. And advocates assert that this will translate into people initially being knocked back and not proceeding any further.
Domestic Violence NSW media spokesperson Renata Field explained that this is of particular concern for those who have been subjected to “domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse and child sexual abuse”, as the new procedure may transpire in them missing out on their compensation.
A delay is no fix
Ms Field further advised that while the change that was set to go ahead this week has been postponed for a further fortnight, this is only delaying the inevitable difficulties. And DV advocates are calling for the minister to more adequately address this issue at Tuesday’s meeting.
Community Legal Centres NSW chair Arlia Fleming told Sydney Criminal Lawyers that a two week halt to changes will not provide enough time to properly address the issues involved with the significant reforms to the way Victims Support operates.
“Any changes to the Victims Support scheme must be victim-survivor led,” the lawyer made clear. “We do not understand the rationale for these changes or the urgency with which they are being implemented.”
“The changes seem to be driven by Victims Services meeting efficiency targets for which they are not adequately resourced to achieve,” Ms Fleming concluded. “We call for proper funding of Victims Services to support victims-survivors in the way victims-survivors need.”
Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on human rights issues, encroachments on civil liberties, drug law reform, gender diversity and First Nations rights. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.