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January 21, 2022

Women and kids seeking refuge ‘never had it so good’

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‘What a waste of space you are,’ Nationals MP Geoff Provest told Jenny Aitchison during debate over the axing of a Tweed women’s service.
‘What a waste of space you are,’ Nationals MP Geoff Provest told Jenny Aitchison during debate over the axing of a Tweed women’s service.

Hans Lovejoy

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.’

During debate over the axing of a Tweed women’s service, Jenny Aitchison (Labor) was asked not to refer to members opposite as ‘dogs’. Photo ABC/Rob Virtue
During debate over the axing of a Tweed women’s service, Jenny Aitchison (Labor) was asked not to refer to members opposite as ‘dogs’. Photo ABC/Rob Virtue

CEO resigns

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?

Political bastardy

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.’

Sector destroyed

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.’

Greens response

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.

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  1. At the same time Geoff Provest 100%….”short-term letting is here to stay”…wants to see every residential home across NSW offered up to Airbnb/Stayz/the Short-Term Letting Industry.
    Some might believe his attitude and the the perks he receives through his Parliamentary package to be an absolute disgrace?
    Residential Housing is for the housing of Residents. The grabe for cash and junkets enjoyed by the likes of Mr Provest appears happy to leave the most vulnerable in our society exposed to true and sometimes perilous consequences.

  2. Dogs are great – trusting and loyal – please don’t refer to a-hole humans as animals…

    * Snakes clean up rodents left by human filth
    * Pigs are loyal and caring
    * Rats clean up rubbish made by humans
    * Worms keep the soil clean
    * maggots help get rid of more human filth…

    you get my drift – a horrible human is a horrible human, don’t tar other earthlings with the same dirty brush please.

    PS. Female reproductive orifices are deep and warm so don’t go there either…

  3. Thank you for your balanced overview of the presentation of the petition to reinstate the wrongfully terminated and award winning Tweed Valley Women’s Service to the NSW Parliament last Thursday Hans. The truth has been slow to see the light of day as veiled and overt threats of legal action were levied at those of us who seek justice in the wake of the severance of the contract. Provest read his script about the liquidation of the service implying there was something amiss for it to be liquidated, but there was no choice. On Track severed the contract, with no warning, two weeks before the next round of funding was due to be paid – the first week of January – the service operated on a shoestring, so there was no money to pay staff, rent or any of the other costs of running the organisation. So we, the management team had to shut the doors and let the wonderful staff go. The hardest thing ever a week before Christmas and heart breaking to do so to the staff who had always gone above and beyond to support the women and families in the region.

  4. So Elaine de Vos was a Trojan Horse inside On Tracks for the local Nationals. Sounds like a regular strategy of the Nationals. Richmond River Rescue anyone?

  5. There is not enough help for homelessness, or domestic violence. To close these services is criminal. There are too many people already couch surfing. To say there is help and emergency help is a broad blanket statement, and not really true. If you have a car to sleep in, a tent, somebody’s couch, or a car garage to sleep in, then emergency help and housing commission don’t want to help. There needs to be more social housing available. And long term as well as emergency. Sometimes these agencies put people into a motel for a few weeks. That is accommodation, but expensive and not sustainable. Also emergency housing, and community housing or commission housing needs to take into account pets. Some people stay longer than is good for them, because they have pets. I sure did. Have some heart. Foreign ownership of residential properties also has compacted the problem.


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