Budget 2018 has unprecedented chance to address social disadvantage

By Professor Patrick O’Leary, Professor of Social Work, School of Human Services and Social Work

The 2018-19 Federal Budget has the opportunity to make a social impact on equity, safety and restitution to people disadvantaged structurally by violence. Over the past five or so years, there has been significant attention to ravages of violence and abuse, particularly on children and women across the life course.

The costs to society and restraint on human potential can never be underestimated. Rosie Battie was Australian of the Year in 2015 on the basis of her lived experience of domestic violence and her activism to bring about change. Former Chief of Defence David Morrison followed as Australian of the Year on the basis his efforts to challenge gendered violence and raising societies recognition of discrimination and sexism. December 2018 saw the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, after a watershed period in uncovering some of the darkest secrets of institutional failure to protect children.

Knowing what we know now, what does the Commonwealth owe the public in terms of bringing findings and recommendations to action? To date there has been little or no acknowledgement of the implications for the Budget to honour the Royal Commission’s recommendations or the ongoing development of domestic violence intervention and prevention initiatives.

History will see this era as revolutionary in awareness, but will it be disappointed by action? The Federation of Australia has a rare opportunity to say it has learnt from the past by showing it is acting for the future by resourcing innovation to prevent and respond to violence.

“The Federal Budget faces challenges in preventing further conditions that allow violence to be perpetrated with a sense of impunity.”

At this Federal Budget, Australian society faces some of the most critical social issues in relation to gender-based violence of its time, and not because these are new issues; rather, we now have unprecedented knowledge. These are times when governments can no longer ignore or see issues of violence and abuse as impacting on a marginalised few. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse lifted the cover on how the safety of children was ignored and trivialised; a similar story has been seen in institutions for disability, mental health and Indigenous ‘welfare’.

There are complex demands on the Federal Budget to respond to the most vulnerable in society, but this time is different because we know more, and communities are compelled to act. Not only to address the wrongs of the past but to change the pattern of how problems such as domestic violence occur in the first place.

Aged care is a particular concern, with rising rates of institutionalisation. Increased demand in aged care has seen a boost in funding. However, have we really learnt about the intersectionality of problems? The Federal Budget faces challenges in not only acting on the impact of past abuse but preventing further conditions that allow violence to be perpetrated with a sense of impunity. We have knowledge on the intractability of allowing institutions to act by proxy for the care and protection of society’s most vulnerable. Services for the elderly is a major challenge but ‘old’ thinking on how to respond will be fraught if not tempered with what we know from past ills.

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