SISTERS OF CHARITY OUTREACH
(Liverpool) [12.45 p.m.]: I draw to the attention of the House the work carried out in my electorate and south-west Sydney generally by the Sisters of Charity Outreach. The event that prompts me to mention their work today is that I have been invited officially to open their opportunity shop on Friday 28 May, which I will be delighted to do. It also assists the electorate of the Minister for Health.
The opportunity shop is located at 562 Hume Highway, Casula - best described as being generally near the intersection with Kurrajong Road. The official opening will be preceded by the official blessing to be carried out by Father Phil Linder, the parish priest from the All Saints parish at Liverpool. The shop will assist and complement the activities of the Sisters of Charity Outreach and help fund their activities, particularly their safe house. The Sisters of Charity have a wide range of activities. Their mission is expressed to be:
The Sisters of Charity Outreach is committed to supporting people in need within NSW, focusing on raising the status of women and families.
Outreach is a compassionate, diverse service supporting women and family life through the active participation of trained volunteers. Outreach works towards breaking the cycle of destructive family behaviour by fostering self dependence through continuing education and communication. We are committed to being a voice for the voiceless in society.
In pursuit of that mission the Sisters of Charity carry out a large range of activities including: the Liverpool and Fairfield courts support programs; the Darlinghurst Centre, which provides counselling, support, legal advice and other assistance to women and families in and around Sydney; a parent support program located in Casula; a living and learning
skill centre in Lewisham; and a country care link program. The service with which I have had most contact has been their save haven safe house which is operated within the general vicinity of my electorate.
The safe house, as the name suggests, is a 24-hour emergency accommodation centre for women and children in domestic violence situations. Each year more than 900 women and children obtain assistance from the centre. In fact, it is the only centre that can be accessed by women with children, if they happen to live in the electorate of Liverpool. Domestic violence is one of the great scourges of our society. Regrettably, many of the people who pontificate about the evils of crime and the desperate need for law and order fail to recognise that domestic violence is one of the most serious issues of violence in our community.
Women and children are far more likely to be attacked and hurt by someone they know than by someone they do not know. Accordingly, much of the media attention that should be focused on domestic violence is directed elsewhere. The operations of the Sisters of Charity do not receive anything like the praise or recognition that they deserve. The centre works closely with State government agencies such as the Police Service, the Department of Community Services and Liverpool Hospital.
There are not enough services of this sort in south-west Sydney but without the Sisters of Charity it would be very much worse. That is not to say that there are not some barriers to the operations of the centre. Last year, one of the problems was highlighted graphically and unpleasantly. In a quite notorious incident a woman who had been at the safe house was murdered by her husband. She was at the house because of domestic violence inflicted upon her by her husband. In an act of gross irresponsibility one of the tabloid media outlets in this city published the address of the safe house. That caused considerable and legitimate concern in the minds of the workers. One of the workers wrote to me and said:
Because domestic violence is a growing concern as perpetrators are more violent we were concerned for our safety as workers in the refuge.
Domestic violence perpetrators could easily displace violence onto the workers, who are, in their position, totally vulnerable. Workers at that safe house pleaded with the media outlet concerned not to print the address, but to no avail. When the media are so callous, cavalier and irresponsible it is difficult to argue against some legal prohibition preventing them from providing an address to a prospective perpetrator.
I understand the problem may be able to be alleviated by amending Part 15A of the Crimes Act. Several months ago I was advised by the Attorney General that these matters are also of concern to the Government, and that a review was being conducted by the apprehended violence legal issues committee of the position of women workers in centres such as the safe house. I take this opportunity to impress upon the Attorney the significance and importance of that issue, and ask for his urgent action.
The other major impediment to the effective and ongoing operation of the safe house is the inevitable issue of funding. That is to be addressed partly by the opportunity shop, which is to be officially opened on Friday. However, this would seem to be a compelling case for further support. As I understand it, the only significant capital amount provided by the Government to the safe house was some $5,000, which the Minister for Police in his wisdom, and as a result of my representations, provided last year.
I must say that I find that curious. As so many of the referrals to the centre come from State agencies of police and community services, and the hospital, one would expect greater State government support. This matter was raised with the previous Minister for Housing in particular, and I hope the current Minister for Housing will take up the issue. The location of the safe house was chosen specifically because the police asked for it to be there. As I say, the safe house takes a tremendous number of referrals from State agencies, and it is almost always full. There is a clear need for the service, and I hope that the relevant Minister will pay attention to this matter.