BEGA Valley Shire Council has deferred two separate motions about supporting Save Our Services and full restoration of services at the Bega Women’s Refuge.
Cr Sharon Tapscott tabled a motion on notice for Wednesday’s meeting in regard to the Bega Women’s Resource Centre seeking support from council for Save Our Services, an organisation that has collected 14,000 signatures calling for a debate in NSW Parliament into the outcomes of the Going Home, Staying Home tender (BDN, 21/10).
Locally the tender has resulted in the transfer of the Bega Women’s Refuge from South East Women’s and Children Services (SEWACS) to Mission Australia, and its temporary closure.
Cr Keith Hughes also tabled a motion asking for the Bega refuge to be open 24/7 and staffed at previous levels.
At the start of Wednesday’s council meeting there were deputations from Gabrielle Powell of the Women’s Resource Centre and Mission’s area manager Daniel Strickland.
In her deputation, Ms Powell highlighted community dismay at the closure of the refuge, which according to the Department of Housing will be closed until at least mid-December while it undergoes maintenance.
Ms Powell claimed the referral service offered during the refuge’s closure had led to many examples of women and children unable to access services through Mission Australia.
She also noted the Christmas and holiday period was a stressful time that leads to an upswing in domestic violence, adding to a need for the refuge to be open immediately.
Mr Strickland said Mission Australia continued to support women with staff who were on call 24/7 and said a number of clients had been assisted since July.
He took questions from councillors following his deputation and said locally Mission Australia had a comparable level of staff with the previous refuge manager, SEWACS.
Ms Powell questioned this, telling the BDN “Mission Australia claimed they had 10 staff including managers, but managers are not case workers or support workers and there is still a lack of experience among the staff”.
“I’m advocating for qualified support staff to operate this refuge 24/7,” she said.
“Many in the community are frustrated with the current lack of support for women escaping domestic violence since the Going Home, Staying Home reforms came in.
“Since July the network of safe, women’s only services has been decimated across the state and in Bega and Eden we have lost a service with 26 years’ experience and 10 qualified staff.
“The fact remains that Bega has been without an operating refuge for three months and it looks like it's going to be closed over Christmas, one of the worst times for domestic violence incidents.”
Ms Powell also noted Mission Australia only advertised for two Bega-based case workers this week.
Roxanne McMurray, a spokesperson for Save Our Services, said she “welcomed the interest from Bega Valley Shire Council”.
“It's not appropriate for women to just be referred to a hotline, they need real assistance,” she said.
Council deferred both motions for staff reporting.