Senate Estimates Committees – Accommodation for women at risk – October 2016

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Senate Estimates Committees are an important but little-understood parliamentary process which allows senators from all sides to question officials and (Senate-based) ministers in detail about matters in their portfolio.

While high-profile political clashes (mostly between the political rivals) attract the lion’s share of media attention from Estimates Committee hearings, the Committee process also unearths a wealth of less newsworthy but detailed policy and implementation information not available elsewhere, of importance to those with a stake in policy areas.

(The expansion of the Senate committee process in the 1960s and 1970s under the leadership of Labor’s Senate leader Lionel Murphy had the effect of turning the Senate from a sleepy backwater into a serious house of review.)

In contrast to parliamentary question time, the interrogation process is more like court-room questioning with senators able to explore issues in some detail when those under questioning are reluctant to provide detailed answers which could be politically uncomfortable.

Estimates hearings are held twice a year for each portfolio, after the Budget in May and additional estimates towards the end of the year.

Accommodation for women at risk

The Committee discussed the issue of Commonwealth financial assistance for women’s shelters

Senator Skye Kakoschke-Moore of the Nick Xenophon Team asked about specific Commonwealth contributions exclusively for women's shelters. Officials said that under the NAHA there is a specific priority for domestic violence but no specific allocation for women’s shelters.

Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: So, it is, in essence, a guideline that encourages states to allocate money to this area? I am just concerned that it seems that money is there and if tackling domestic violence is a priority of the government that there is not specific funding earmarked for women's shelters.

Assistant Minister for Social Services and Multicultural Affairs Senator SESELJA: The answer that I was giving earlier was sort of alluding to this fact and some of the challenges and I think the drawbacks with NAHA as it currently is. It is not clear exactly what the outputs and the outcomes are in detail in terms of some of that spending. I think it is an important area of reform and whether it is domestic violence funding or whether it is in other outcomes for that $1.3 billion I think it is right for reform to ensure that there is maximum transparency and that we know what we are getting for all of our spending.

Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: So, based on the funding arrangements now you would not be able to tell us whether or not funding goes to women's shelters or paying for crisis accommodation when shelters are at capacity? Do you have visibility of that?

The official replied: We have to ask the states for information on that.

Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: I see, but that is not something, as a federal government department, you are keeping an eye on to make sure that the funding that the Commonwealth is providing is being allocated to the areas that need it most?

Official: We do not have any capacity to compel the states to tell us about that. That is, as the minister said, one of the drawbacks of the current agreement.

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