‘We’re worried about the outcomes’: Domestic violence advocacy groups express concern over the government’s superannuation access scheme

The government’s rollout of a new initiative is being met with criticism.
  • A new initiative by the Australian government allows women fleeing domestic violence to access up to $10,000 from their superannuation accounts.
  • Domestic violence advocacy groups fear the ‘last resort lifeline’ will only serve to deepen hardships for women in retirement.
  • An exposure draft will be released soon, with opportunity for changes.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

The Australians Government’s rollout of a new initiative that allows women fleeing domestic violence to access up to $10,000 from their superannuation is being met with criticism by some domestic violence advocacy groups.

The rollout comes ahead of the federal budget, and was unveiled over two years ago by the former Women’s Minister Kelly O’Dwyer in the 2018 Women’s Economic Security Statement.

The initiative, which will begin in the coming weeks, includes a data sharing provision between courts and the tax office to reveal retirement balances during divorce proceedings.

It provides a new compassionate ground for early access to super, which would allow domestic violence victims to apply for up to $10,000 of their super to be withdrawn “as an important last resort lifeline.”

An exposure draft will be released “soon” for changes to increase the visibility of superannuation accounts and balances during divorces and for access to super for domestic violence victims, Minister for superannuation, financial services and the digital economy Jane Hume said.

While billed a “last resort”, advocacy groups such as the Australian Women Against Violence Alliance (AWAVA) say it only serves to deepen the gender divide by diminishing women’s retirement savings.

‘Placing the onus on individuals’

Tina Dixson, acting program manager at AWAVA, told Business Insider Australia that the initiative was not close to the desired outcome.

The advocacy group was involved in consultations with the government beginning in 2019, where it advised that providing access to superannuation benefits could actually result in unintended consequences for women.

“Essentially, in the context of family and domestic violence, we are placing the onus on individuals who have chosen to use their own resources to escape violence,” Dixson said.

Given that the gender pay gap results in a superannuation pay gap for women later in life, encouraging women seeking to escape dangerous situations through diminishing their retirement savings only serves to increase these risks, according to Dixson.

“By giving access to super, even if it’s only a thousand dollars…we’re worried about the outcomes for women in retirement,” she said.

One of the recommendations they gave was to explore the roll out of flexible support packages, which are already in place in Victoria.

These are payments of between $3,000 and $10,000 that are provided for women experiencing domestic violence to reestablish their lives.

They would like to see such programs rolled out over the country, she said, rather than encourage access to a pool of resources that is already “much more limited” for women.

“As we know, women engage more in care work, they work more part-time hours in casual jobs that do not necessarily result in good superannuation savings, and so access at this stage would really mean leaving much less money for their retirement.”

She says the initiative is another example of myopic policy by the federal government, which neglects to consider the interconnections between domestic violence, women’s increased participation in casual and part-time work that results in lower — or no — payment into super, and lower balances of superannuation.

“If we begin looking at public policy with an intersectional lens….we could try to address the issue on a more structural level than just giving people the blank access to draw from their superannuation – without thinking about the long-term implications of the policies,” she said.

With the initiative already in place, Dixson says her concern is that, with the understanding that the ATO will be deciding on superannuation withdrawal outcomes, those decision-makers will not be trained “on the nature and dynamics of domestic and family violence…and [may create] negative outcomes for women at such difficult times as leaving the violent relationship.”