David Pocock has urged federal and ACT Labor to sort out potentially "disastrous" domestic violence support in the territory, while the ACT Domestic Violence Crisis Service is urging all ACT parties, in this election year, to make a stand on ending gender-based violence.
Minister for Social Services Amanda Rishworth has written to the ACT senator in the wake of data covering the Morrison government-introduced Escaping Violence Payment (EVP) trial program, which showed the ACT had the highest rate (69.6 per cent) in the nation for applicants being unable to receive support when trying to flee violent relationships.
Only 207 out of 707 received the aid, of up to $5000 in cash, goods and services, from October 2021 to September 2023, while the rate in Victoria is vastly different with more than 85 per cent of Victorian applicants eligible for the payment.
The ACT does not have its own provider delivering the payment, rather it uses Wesley NSW, which has also delivered a high (65.4 per cent) fail rates for NSW.
"For those women and children, it's disastrous," Senator Pocock told The Canberra Times.
"It's potentially life-changing support that they're not getting, and for us as a community, it's something we should all be deeply concerned about pushing the ACT government and the federal government to change. It's not good enough.
"They need to sort this out."
The Minister explained in her letter, as part of closing monitoring the trial, that NSW was particularly impacted by the high levels of demand of the EVP trial at the time the trial commenced, with Wesley NSW continuing to receive the highest number of applications nationally.
"This affected service delivery and client experience across NSW and the ACT," Ms Rishworth said in the letter, seen by The Canberra Times.
She said the vast majority of knocked-back applications were due to not being able re-establish contact with the applicants after multiple attempts, while 10 per cent of all applications were ruled ineligible.
Ms Rishworth also explained that Wesley NSW started using a semi-automatic application process in late 2022 due to a high volume of applications. This has been dumped and the Minister said there had been a "suite" of improvements since June 2023.
"I expect to see improvements in service delivery outcomes in the ACT and NSW in coming months," she said in her letter.
The key ACT Senate crossbencher wants more.
"It's not good enough. And we should absolutely be having our own dedicated provider. The argument that they are not prioritising the ACT because they are a NSW provider doesn't cut it," Senator Pocock said.
Sue Webeck, ACT Domestic Violence Crisis Service chief executive, said the high ACT fail rate was due to "very limited" case management services available in the ACT, funded either by the Commonwealth or the territory government.
She said the Escaping Violence Payment "looks good in theory", but its complex application process can be difficult for ACT survivors and for services trying to navigate applicants.
"The parameters around the escaping violence payment mean that within 12 weeks of leaving a relationship for three months where violence has been present, you need to be applying for it, which means that people are currently in crisis and experiencing trauma," Ms Webeck explained.
"And the supports that might enable somebody to actually go through that process and make that application are very few in the ACT. We don't actually fund case management services like other jurisdictions do. In the ACT, we focus on funding crisis responses or programs towards healing."
Ms Webeck said to respond to the domestic and family violence epidemic both systems of government need to be working together.
She is hoping for commitments in the lead up to the October territory election.
"It does need to be a focus of this election that we would like to see strong commitments made around working towards a plan to end gender-based violence in our community and to appropriately resourced, sustainable, organisational responses to those who are impacted by violence," she said.
"We still have to understand that Commonwealth rolled-out programs still have a local level jurisdiction implementation issue that can be solved by greater understanding and connection, discussion and consultation with the states and territories."
The Albanese government has a commitment to end violence against women and children in one generation with the Minister saying the time taken for applicants to access support had been reduced by 22 days.
"Women and children experiencing violence should not be forced to remain in unsafe situations due to financial barriers," the Minister said in a statement.
"We're monitoring the operations of the Escaping Violence Payment national trial closely."
"Clients assessed to be ineligible are not turned away from the program and are referred to other support services which are appropriate for their situation."