Women leaving relationships due to domestic and family violence will be able to access their superannuation early under new changes announced by the federal government this week.
The move was among a range of measures outlined as part of the inaugural launch of the Women’s Economic Security Statement, a $109 million funding package aiming to create ‘greater choice for Australian women’.
Its three pillars advocate workforce participation, earning potential and economic independence.
Focus areas include bridging the gender pay gap, increasing flexibility in the parental leave system and establishing specialist domestic violence units.
The early access to superannuation for victims of domestic and family violence comes with improvements to the visibility of superannuation assets in family law proceedings, allowing Family Law Courts to pinpoint information regarding superannuation assets through the Australian Tax Office.
While the Family Law Act recognises superannuation as an asset, many people currently experience difficulty tracking down their partner’s funds.
Other measures will streamline the property settlement process in a bid to give women quicker access to much-needed income during relationship breakdowns.
HESTA said it had pushed for early access to super for domestic and family violence victims and that the progress would provide a vital financial lifeline.
“Women often escape a violent situation with limited assets and serious debt, as financial abuse is almost always present where there is family violence,” said HESTA CEO Debby Blakey.
“Superannuation is often the only remaining shared asset in a relationship breakdown and it can be very difficult for people to locate their partner’s funds, especially without legal assistance, which can be costly.”
Ms Blakey also welcomed the federal government’s proposal to streamline the property settlement process but added it was merely the beginning of the conversation.
In February this year, HESTA called for further exploration of victim compensation related to family violence as part of a review of the early release of superannuation conducted by Treasury.
“It is vitally important that any discussion of early access to super for victims and survivors of family violence is also coupled with consideration of how they could then access the perpetrator’s super as part of victims of crime compensation.”
Responding to the federal government’s moves to improve women’s financial security, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) called the plan to allow women leaving domestic violence to dip into their super and take on debt inadequate.
The ACTU is campaigning for 10 days’ paid family and domestic violence leave nationally and said such leave was essential both on social and economic grounds for women escaping violence and abuse.
“Women experiencing family and domestic violence need leave to be able to leave. It’s long past time for 10 days’ paid family and domestic violence leave,” ACTU president Michele O’Neill said.
“In 2018, women escaping violent relationships should not have to choose between their income and their safety. They should not have to spend their retirement savings or take on debt.
“Our broken system already sees women retire with 47% less than men. Forcing women to dip into their super is likely to make worse women’s already inadequate retirement savings.”