Canberra residents will become the first in the nation to pay a domestic violence tax, after the ACT government announced it would levy households $30 a year to fund an “unprecedented” $21.4 million reform package.
Unveiling the Safer Families program as the centrepiece of yesterday’s budget, ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the territory government’s investment in domestic violence services was the largest in its history.
“Family violence does not discriminate; it is a national issue that touches the lives of Australians everywhere,” Mr Barr said.
“In Canberra we’ve seen our share of tragedy. All of us need to stand up and say enough is enough. There is no place for family violence in our community.”
The decision to levy the funds from residents as opposed to finding the money in general revenue was taken to ensure there was a “locked-in, legislated, sustainable revenue source for this initiative” over time, Mr Barr said.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said in April he would consider a similar levy to fund all of the 227 recommendations made by a royal commission into family violence.
The ACT package has been coupled with new laws to broaden the definition of family violence to include emotional, psychological and economic abuse, along with bolstered legal protections for victims. A new full-time co-ordinator general for family safety with a dedicated team will receive $3m of the $21m package, with $2.6m going towards case management and co-ordination, $2.4m for enhanced child protection services, $2m for specialist drug treatment services and $1.2m for interpreting services in ACT courts.
A key role of the co-ordinator general will be to work with community and government partners, including with Aboriginal groups, to ensure services are culturally appropriate. An extra $1.2m will go to Legal Aid for access to legal services for victims, while $1.45m will be allocated to implement recommendations from the Australian Law Reform Commission’s report into Family Violence.
Frontline staff in community and emergency services, health and education will also receive $770,000 for training so they can identify family violence and put in place early intervention measures.
Soaring demand for services will see the ACT Domestic Violence Crisis Service and Canberra Rape Crisis Centre receive more than $1.2m over four years to support people affected by family violence.
The Tara Costigan Foundation will receive funding for the establishment of the “Tara’s Angels Service” which will provide a free caseworker service for victims as they rebuild their lives.
The charity was set up last year after the 28-year-old was killed by her former partner with an axe, while breast-feeding her five-day-old baby daughter.
Her nine-year-old and 11-year-old sons watched the brutal murder, while her sister and boyfriend were injured trying to stop the attack.
“Any and all funds that can help us to support that is very, very much needed,” the foundation’s chief executive Michael Costigan, Tara’s uncle, told The Australian.
ACT Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson said the Liberal Party wanted extra services to address family violence, but it should be the “main game” for government and not funded through a special levy. “We have supported action on domestic violence … but to pay for initiatives for domestic violence through people’s rates seems like a very strange solution,” Mr Hanson said.
“This should be the sort of stuff that is front and centre for the government.”
Free-market think tank, the Institute of Public Affairs, said the ACT government was right to implement effective measures to confront domestic violence, but said this did not justify the levy.
“It’s important to separate means from ends,” said IPA director Simon Breheny. “The government should refrain from increasing taxes on Canberran landowners. Tackling violence in all its forms is the first role of government. The imposition of a higher tax burden is not justified. Instead, the government should be looking for savings, and using that money to put towards important frontline services.”