Rallying for Bega refuge

A rally  in support of keeping the Bega Women’s Refuge open was held on Monday. 

Shortly before the rally, Member for Bega Andrew Constance announced extra funding had been secured to guarantee the refuge would remain open.

The agreement is between Bega Valley homelessness tender funding awardee Mission Australia and the Department of Family and Community Services. 

The money did not go to the South East Women and Children’s Service (SEWACS), which managed the refuge previously but missed out in the tender process.

Although Mr Constance asked for the rally to be called off, participants were unaware of the funding announcement as it was made public just an hour before. 

Around 80 people gathered near the refuge where Gabrielle Powell from the Women’s Resource Centre (WRC) and Southern Women’s Group (SWG) spoke in support of the refuge, as well as Leanne Atkinson, the Labor candidate for Bega. 

Ms Atkinson reminded the crowd the rally was “not a criticism of Mission Australia”.

“Mission entered into the tender process in good faith, it’s the process that is flawed.

“It’s a small community and service providers need to support each other,” she said. 

Although the rally was told of the new funding announcement it made little difference to the mood of the crowd.

“The bottom line here is that it’s been a flawed tender process from the beginning which Constance and the State Government needs to take responsibility for,” Ms Powell said. 

“It’s ironic this process was allegedly about saving money and here Constance is having to announce extra funding.

“It doesn’t change that the refuge was run by specialist domestic violence experts, many with decades of experience, and now it’s run by generalists. 

“This whole process took place without any consultation with the community who supported the refuge from the beginning.

“It should be returned to SEWACS.”

Representatives from SEWACS were at the rally, but did not speak. 

Asked for a response by the BDN, a spokesperson reiterated Ms Powell’s sentiment that it had been a “flawed tender process”.

“That Mr Constance has had come up with additional funds today just gives an indication of how flawed and unfair the process was,” a spokesperson said. 

Several women spoke at the rally. 

Joanne Dodds of Bega said it’s “cruel and unjust that all this experience in running the refuge has been ignored”.

“The blood, sweat and tears of the women who started and worked at this refuge has been swept aside from the government, for what?”

Cathy Blake gave a personal insight into the refuge.

“Forty years ago I was once in a vulnerable position and needed a place like the refuge - it pains me to think women in that same position today may not be able to,” she said. 

Elizabeth Blakemore of Kalaru attended the rally with a sign that read, “Bega Valley cares”.

“I don’t work in this area, but I had to come,” she said.

“I want to show how much the community supports the refuge and how appalling I think the funding outcomes are.”

The group walked from the refuge to the Bega office of Mr Constance to deliver a petition asking for specialist women and children’s domestic violence services to be reinstated to previous service providers and funding levels. 

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