Australian ministers suffering stress are provided with more taxpayer support than victims of violence

(AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

Practical support for the thousands of Australian women who are sexually or physically assaulted by men is not simply woefully inadequate, it is nonexistent. If you are a casually employed woman in Australia who is raped or assaulted you are entitled to five days unpaid leave. In short, just beginning to recover from an attack would cost a woman on minimum wage more than $700 a week.

Imagine having to go to work in the days after a physical or sexual assault because you couldn’t afford not to. There is no rent holiday for victims of violence, nor is there a discount at the supermarket. Imagine having to front up at Centrelink, or for a job interview, in the days after an assault because you feared being “breached” and losing your unemployment payments.

But of course, if you are a government minister who is accused of failing to support an employee who alleges to have been raped on your watch, or a minister accused of committing rape, you could be placed on taxpayer-funded medical leave and paid $7,000 a week.

Christian Porter has strenuously denied the allegations that have been made against him and is entitled to the presumption of innocence.

But no one can deny that MPs suffering stress and anxiety are provided with far more taxpayer support than women who have been the victim of violence.

And while no one doubts the genuine pressure that Porter is under, does anyone believe that those who are the victims of physical or sexual violence are in less need of help?

There should be significant government spending on paid leave and mental health support services for the victims of assault that affect more than 100,000 women each year.

Providing all victims of sexual or domestic violence with the kind of support offered to highly-paid ministers would cost billions of dollars a year. And – let’s be clear – employers don’t want to pay for such support and neither does the Morrison government. But let’s also be clear that the money is there. Australia is one of the richest countries in the world and, as described below, we never struggle to find the money when tax cuts for high-income blokes are on the table. It’s not just leave for women recovering from violence that we need to adequately fund and fairly distribute, it’s mental health care as well.

It is not that the government ‘can’t afford’ to spend billions helping women and children – it’s that it has quite different priorities

When soldiers, emergency service workers or medical professionals experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of what they endure in the workplace, the government (rightly) picks up the very expensive tab for treating their condition and helping them heal. But when women and children develop PTSD because of what they endure at the hands of violent men there is far less such support. We know how to help people with PTSD, but we choose to provide far more help to those who develop it at work than those who develop it at the hands of a violent man.

It would cost a lot of money to help hundreds of thousands of women and children heal the scars that men gave them and, to be blunt, it looks like the government has no interest in spending that much money on a “women’s problem”. It is not that the government “can’t afford” to spend billions helping women and children – it’s that it has quite different priorities.

In 2018 it was reported that sexual assault victims were waiting up to 14 months for counselling as specialist support services were so desperately underfunded and under-resourced.

Each year the government spends around $41bn on superannuation tax concessions to help some of us have a more comfortable retirement. Around $21bn of that goes to those in the top 20%, most of whom are blokes. But I bet you have never heard a Morrison government minister say that the government “can’t afford” to help rich blokes retire even richer.

Then there’s the looming tax cuts. By July 2024 people earning more than $200,000 a year (or $3,900 a week) will reap a more than $9,000 a year windfall in the form of Stage 3 tax cuts. And, you guessed it, 74% of people earning that much are blokes. Despite these tax cuts costing almost $19bn a year, again, we have not heard a peep from the Coalition about these enormous and permanent tax cuts being “unaffordable” or “unsustainable”. Such negative adjectives are only ever used to describe spending on those in need.

Australia is so rich that even in the middle of a pandemic we can afford to spend $500m extending the Canberra war memorial and $1.2bn subsidising half-price flights to north Queensland and other tourist hotspots. But, despite our wealth and despite recognising the benefits of stress leave for members of his cabinet, the PM does not seem to think that his government should be funding stress leave and high-quality PTSD care for all victims of abuse.

We all know how hard people find it to tell Scott Morrison what is going on. But we also all know that conversations with his ministers have clearly made him understand the benefits of letting those who have experienced severe stress recover before they return to work.

If only the prime minister would have a conversation with women who had to return to work just days after they were raped, or with students who have to go back to school with those who raped them. Perhaps he would stop trying to “draw a line” under this crisis, and start trying to help those who have been harmed by it.

  • In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14
  • If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, family or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au
  • In an emergency, call 000
  • International helplines can be found via www.befrienders.org
Originally published by The Guardian on April 8, 2021

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