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A center that helps survivors and women escaping domestic violence in border communities says some are waiting up to three months to access services.

“We never used to have a waitlist,” said Marge Nichol, general manager of Albury Wodonga’s Women’s Center for Health and Wellbeing.

The center provides counselling, case workers and therapeutic resilience programs for women.

It also provides advice and pathways, particularly for those who experience sexual, domestic and family violence.

Ms Nichol said they were struggling to keep up with demand as they simply did not have enough funding.

“Currently we’re the third lowest funded women’s center in NSW, and our centers have had no increase in core funding since 1986.

“The Albury Wodonga region has grown exponentially and none of our funding has gone up. The base funding we’ve got doesn’t even cover any full-time staff.”

The center says it could help twice as many women a year with more funding.(Supplied: Women’s Center Albury Wodonga)

The center is calling for a baseline investment of $1 million a year in the 2022-23 budget with year-on-year indexation.

This would mean it could have at least another two counselors on board and possibly a psychologist to help with diagnosis and mental health plans.

Ms Nichol said it could then help about 5,000 women a year, up from 2,000.

With the impacts of the bushfires and then the pandemic increasing the vulnerability of many local women, the funding could not come soon enough, she said.

“I think COVID has made people think, ‘I can’t live in this situation anymore’, and they’re fleeing. We’ve had to get some people out of town to be safe.

Government action needed

Ms Nichol referenced the government’s National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children that has been in place for the past 10 years but says “nothing has really changed”.

“We’ve got another one coming out now [the draft report was released for feedback in January]but we can’t tap into that and make it work if we’re running on funding that is from back in the ’80s.

“It doesn’t make you feel confident that you’re going to make a big difference. We can make a small difference to a small amount of people … but we want to be able to make a bigger impact.”

Three women stand together smiling in front of a Women's Center for Health and Wellbeing sign
Center staff, including Chelsea, Marge and Naomi, say they’ll keep pushing for more support.(Supplied)

Ms Nichol and her colleagues met with the Member for Albury, Justin Clancy, and told him about the difficulties they were facing.

“It was good to catch up with Marge Nichol last week and to discuss their pre-budget submission,” said Mr Clancy, who is also the Parliamentary Secretary for Health.

“They are one of several organizations within our region carrying out their invaluable work providing physical, mental and wellbeing health services for women.”

Mr Clancy said COVID had increased pressure on the community and families in many ways and there was high demand for funding.

“I will continue to press the government for the services, the programs and funding we need right here on the border.”

Ms Nichol said the center would keep fighting to ensure it received the government backing it needed.


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