National and Liberal MPs who stood by as a 30-year-old award-winning domestic violence service in Tweed Heads was axed were referred to as ‘dogs’ during an angry NSW parliamentary debate on March 9.
It came about after a petition to save the Tweed Valley Women’s Service was launched by federal Richmond MP Justine Elliott (Labor). And owing to its reaching 10,000 signatures, it was automatically tabled.
The man who faced the most heat was Nationals Party MP Geoff Provest (Tweed), who bravely explained that those who get abused to the point of needing emergency help can access other accommodation and that service funding has increased.
Services are better now because they are streamlined, and not a ‘patchwork’ he argued.
But Provest’s arguments throughout were underpinned with the recurring phrase ‘I am advised,’ raising the question – is his advice accurate or not? Has the MP ever visited a women’s shelter? He never mentioned it during debate.
Nontheless, yes – funding has increased and besides, the decision to axe 13 jobs was up to parent service provider On Track, not the government.
He said, ‘I am advised by the Department of Family and Community Services that the women’s refuge in the Tweed area has been refurbished and upgraded and available crisis accommodation has been expanded by 60 per cent.’
Significantly, the CEO of the parent service provider who axed the 30-year-old women’s service – On Track – inexplicably resigned last month, according to Tweed Daily News.
Though that wasn’t brought up during debate, former On Track CEO Elaine De Vos was accused by Labor MP Jenny Aitchison of being a Nationals Party stooge.
De Vos can be seen supporting former Nationals Party federal candidate Matthew Fraser in a video on his Facebook page.
Clearly the missing link here is why did De Vos quit as CEO of On Track without explanation and will the government investigate?
Are the increased funds being spent by On Track responsibily or is it being sucked up in middle/top management?
While debate fell into mindless name calling by both coalition and Labor MPs, there were accusations of political bastardy by the Nats over allowing the Tweed Valley Women’s Service contract to be terminated ‘based on unsubstantiated allegations.’
According to Labor’s Jenny Aitchison, the 13 staff were subjected to an on-the-spot audit ‘with no criteria’ for breaching their contract.
It was an audit designed to fail, she suggested.
‘[The contract breach] was for not servicing an area of the state – Ballina – which the government had not put in the contract.
‘It was owing to the incompetence of the government in not including people from that area in these contracts. ‘They then let the lead agency terminate with no recourse.’
Provest retorted under pressure that the termination was ‘done in accordance with legal advice,’ yet did not deny the accusation or table the legal advice.
Instead, he accused Labor’s Justine Elliot – without evidence – of ‘peddling lies and misinformation’ over the issue, along with handful of former board members and staff who ‘waged a misinformed campaign.’
It also appeared Provest knew little about the sackings.
He did say, though, that ‘Under the government’s homelessness reforms, the responsibility to coordinate crisis services for women experiencing domestic and family violence in the Tweed and some other parts of northern NSW was entrusted to On Track in 2014. On Track is now known as Third Sector Australia Ltd.’
‘Services in northern NSW will receive an additional $500,000 per annum for the next two years.
‘The extra funding will enable extra after-hours intake, safety planning, support and additional accommodation options for women and children escaping domestic violence, including women and children in the Tweed. The service also provides brokerage for emergency purchases such as food and transport.’
Another perspective was offered by Labor MP Sophie Costis. She told the chamber the sector has been destroyed by the coalition government through privatisation.
She said, ‘When this government dismantled women’s refuges and specialist homelessness services in 2014, the opposition ran a campaign across NSW to restore those services to ensure that there were women-only services.
‘Members opposite took away specialist refuges that were built and provided for women. Even Nick Greiner opened a refuge. Other government members opened refuges. However, it has decided to outsource those services and dismantle existing services.’
And lastly, local Greens MP for Ballina, Tamara Smith, told the chamber, ‘Why will there be the loss of a standalone service, given the extensive track record of success of the Tweed Valley Women’s Service?’
‘John Lee, the founder and president of Tweed-based homeless support service, You Have a Friend, has spoken publicly in support of the organisation, labelling it a “wonderful service”.’
‘Carmen Stewart from Thrive2484 said the closure of the service came about through a shift in focus to homelessness rather than domestic violence.’
The take-home message from this is that Labor’s accusations over the dodgy way in which a reputable service provider was axed by a parent service provider, whose CEO quit last month without explanation, were not refuted or explained by the government.
Mr Provest’s lack of responsibility and care over this incredibly important issue will leave – forever – an unpleasant stain on the offical NSW parliamentary record, Hansard.