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The current approach to funding works against sustained efforts in primary prevention

Free From Violence listed ‘dedicated and enduring funding’ as one of four foundational elements required to ensure the successful implementation of the strategy. It also stated:

For prevention activities to be successful in the long term they need sustained and enduring funding. Historically, prevention has been underfunded, and funding has been short term and often only provided for individual projects rather than ongoing strategies. The work of coordinating and building the capacity of mainstream partners is critical to a truly whole-of-community approach, and must be adequately resourced to ensure it can reach the entire Victorian population.

Despite an increased focus and funding for prevention since the Royal Commission, these issues remain. Stakeholders universally called for sustained and increased funding to allow primary prevention in Victoria to gain real traction. We heard clearly and consistently during our consultations that the current approach to primary prevention funding in Victoria is a major barrier to success because the total investment is too low and the funding that is provided at the local level has typically been in the form of short-term grants and funding extensions. The absence of a detailed theory of change and system operating framework (as suggested in section 1) has likely made it difficult to clearly demonstrate why greater investment in this area is critical.

Total investment in primary prevention

The total investment in the primary prevention of family violence since the Royal Commission is $345 million (see Figure 15 for a breakdown of the high-level areas of primary prevention funding). Total investment in family violence more broadly (including prevention) over this period is $3.7 billion.

Most stakeholders agreed that a larger investment is needed to properly address the drivers of violence population-wide and, ultimately, to drive a sustained reduction in the incidence of family violence. Unfortunately, there is currently no estimate of the required primary prevention investment [relates to action 8]. As the theory of change, system operating framework and approach to workforce expansion are progressed, we suggest Respect Victoria and the Office for Prevention should work to develop an estimate of the required government investment in primary prevention. A return-on-investment framework will be essential when estimating this figure. This will help strengthen the case to Treasury about the relationship between the quantum and duration of funding provided and the substantial benefits that can be achieved. This should be framed as part of a narrative that describes the need for ongoing investment across the continuum from primary prevention to response.

Figure 15: Victorian Government investment in primary prevention and gender equality

  • Download' Figure 15: Victorian Government investment in primary prevention and gender equality'

Duration of funding allocations

Stakeholders universally commented that the short-term nature of the funding was highly problematic, particularly for primary prevention work, which by nature requires sustained effort over longer timeframes to deliver change.

As one Gender Equity Victoria member noted, the ‘scatter gun approach to funding projects makes it difficult to have a complete picture of what was funded, by which department and how it was evaluated’. Indeed, we found the detailed funding picture very difficult to understand, and we are not clear what proportion of funding has been short term in nature, but government and non-government stakeholders agreed that most prevention funding has been administered as one- to two-year grants or short-term agreements with extensions.

We heard that local agencies are doing a lot with relatively little state investment, with examples given by women’s health services and EDVOS of leveraging other funding sources to drive primary prevention activities. However, we were consistently told about the challenge of retaining skilled staff when they were unable to offer job security due to short-term funding cycles. For those prevention specialists who completed the workforce census, the equal top theme when asked about suggestions for improvement that would help them carry out their role more effectively was more funding, including long-term funding.

This issue is also relevant to Respect Victoria. Respect Victoria is expected to drive primary prevention across the state, but unlike the Transport Accident Commission or WorkCover, a large proportion of Respect Victoria’s budget (approximately two-thirds) is subject to budget bids every four years.

We understand that when pieced together, the year-on-year investment in prevention could be argued to amount to sustained support, but the destabilising effect of the short-term funding cycles cannot be underestimated [relates to action 7]. We suggest that government must:

  • provide more certain investment to support the role in driving generational change that it wants Respect Victoria to play, which by nature requires long-term planning and sustained investment and activity
  • direct more sustained funding to core prevention activities based on the strong evidence base that does exist while also using short-term funding options in areas where knowledge and evidence needs to be built.

The sector warmly welcomed the December 2021 announcement of four years of funding under the Free From Violence second action plan for women’s health services across the state and Safe and Equal ‘to deliver on-the-ground collective primary prevention work’ and a doubling of the women's health budget from the Department of Health for the next two years under the 2022-23 State Budget. There is a strong desire for such increases in the amount and duration of funding to continue.