The state government last August committed $1.67 million to a 12-month pilot of the Perpetrator Accommodation Support Service, which allows for family violence offenders to be rehouse away from home for short periods while they receive professional help and supervision. I support the initiative but we need to find ways to make it work practically in rural and regional areas where there are housing and service shortages.
My matter is for the Minister for Prevention of Family Violence, and it relates to a 17 August 2020 media release from the minister titled ‘Keeping family violence in sight during coronavirus’. That release observed that the COVID lockdowns and restrictions of the past year have been accompanied by an increased risk of family violence and abuse, the Men’s Referral Service was fielding an 11 per cent increase in calls compared to the previous year and the government had therefore allocated significant funding to the arrangements for taking perpetrators or potential perpetrators from their homes to other short-term or long-term accommodation instead. However, I have unfortunately been hearing some troubling anecdotes about how this approach is now being practically implemented. In particular I have been told about cases where not only are vexatious calls being taken about people allegedly causing or threatening family violence but also this then creates serious problems for them in being able to access alternative accommodation. Particularly in my electorate of Northern Victoria it seems they sometimes have literally nowhere to go.
For now, I will illustrate this with a reference to one recent case of which I am aware from a town in my electorate of Northern Victoria. In this case an accused perpetrator of family violence not only denied all such claims against him but was immediately removed from his home and then taken to a police station at which multiple phone calls were made to the Men’s Referral Service in an attempt to try to find housing for him. However, there was simply no answer to any of these calls. As a consequence, the man spent the entire night not only in complete despair and at his wit’s end about what had been alleged about him but also forced to sleep on the floor and chairs in a cold police station. My understanding is that it also took a considerable time during at least the following day for accommodation to be found.
Obviously there are a lot of different questions to potentially be posed about all of this. I realise an adjournment matter does not allow me that flexibility so I will instead concentrate on seeking one main action instead, and this is to ask the minister, in view of the queries I am increasingly fielding about this, if she could provide an explanation of the hours during which the Men’s Referral Service actually takes calls and why it does not seem to be a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week service.