Warrawee Women’s Refuge

Following the Fremantle Council’s decision late last month and the article on the front page of the Fremantle Gazette today there have been some questions asked about the future of services at Warrawee.  Council’s decision to hand back management of the centre to the state government was a difficult decision that I believe warrants further explanation. Hopefully this will provide that.

First and foremost I want to make it very clear that it is our understanding this centre will not be closing and the important work the refuge does will continue uninterrupted.  This is a question about funding and about who operates the centre – not about the centre’s day to day operations.  The end users, the women and their kids who seek refuge from domestic violence, were always the primary consideration.  Let me explain.


The City of Fremantle has been the operator of the Warrawee Women’s Refuge since 1972, supporting women and their children who are escaping family and domestic violence.  We are proud of the assistance we’ve been able to give to the hundreds of families over this time.

To continue as operator, the City has been subsidising the service financially for many years. This funding gap has been increasing due to some fairly major funding inequities which disadvantages the local government sector.

Unfortunately, this service is also one that is affected by the State Government not passing on funding increases to Local Government as outlined in the state budget. Other refuges receive higher funding allocations plus an additional 25% component.

The City of Stirling is the ONLY other local government that runs a women’s refuge and they received an increase two years ago, which we understand was significantly more than the small increase received by City of Fremantle.

Why did the Fremantle Council decide not to reapply to run the service?

To be frank it was becoming pretty clear that the Department was unfairly taking advantage of the generosity of people in Fremantle. The council made the hard decision to say ‘unless funding was increased for the Fremantle refuge in line with the increase in funding ALL the other women’s refuges received we simply couldn’t run it anymore.’

Again, I want to be absolutely clear that the service at Warrawee for women escaping domestic violence is not ending.  Despite the Gazette’s sensationalist (and inaccurate) headline no one will be “left out in the cold” as result of the Fremantle Council’s decision to not reapply to run this service. The Department has indicated it will identify a new provider for the service and the service will most likely be run by an existing refuge provider.  Importantly, from the perspective of the women who use it there will be little change.

What will happen to the money saved?

The Fremantle Council has said it will look at ways to spend the money on other services for women who suffer from domestic violence to enhance or improve services where appropriate. In other words, there is the potential for there to be more services for women in need in the Freo area than there are now. Increased legal services for violence restraining orders is one option being considered.

Why do we think this approach will work?

The Fremantle Council made a similar hard decision on emergency accommodation for young people a couple of years back. We also voted to no longer run that service directly. This service is still provided but now run by the not-for-profit sector.

The upside of this decision was that the Fremantle Council was for the first time in decades able to reallocate the money to fund a youth officer and a range of youth programs including holiday programs, urban art, volunteering opportunities, Leeuwin scholarships, youth sport grants and workshops. The youth officer was also one of the driving forces behind the Esplanade Youth Plaza. Previously we had done little specifically for young people except the emergency accommodation service. Now that still operates but we have a range of other great activities.

It’s this kind of win/win the Fremantle Council is aiming for once again where we can expand our services to women at risk whilst having the refuge run by a not-for profit provider.

Warrawee is a great service but we think it could be better if operated by someone with access to a better funding model than what the City was offered.


As I said earlier, this is not about saving money but the unfair cost-shifting by the State Government to Fremantle ratepayers that needed to be challenged. This was a very difficult decision for most of the Fremantle Council members given the City’s long association with the service. The upside of these changes is that this should ultimately result in a better outcome for women who are impacted by domestic violence – That is what really matters.

About Mayor of Fremantle Brad Pettitt's blog
City of Fremantle Mayor

13 Responses to Warrawee Women’s Refuge

  1. Belinda says:

    Can I suggest if the money is going to be allocated to youth that it be focused on challenging the pornography inspired views of women by young people which are resulting in increased violence and misogyny directed to women. Consent education is sorely needed as well. Otherwise we will end up with more public art depicting women as decorative sexualised objects as per South Beach toilets.

  2. Suzanne says:

    Why have other Councils received more funding than ours? What went wrong?

    The Womens Refuge is an absolute necessity. It is a safe zone for Women and Children in fear of their lives. It should take priority over all the little feelgood decisions this Council continues to make.
    Mayor Pettit says here the ‘money saved’ will be used for other Womans projects. I am sure those vulnerable Women, protecting their children and themselves, would rather their Council thought enough of their safety and continued that support rather than puttinng on classes for knitting toilet roll covers or some other such perceived woman’s interest’.
    Please Freo Council, force the State Government to support your families at risk as they have for other Councils.
    Insist they accept your pleas for assistance, ask why you have been ignored. Get someone who knows what they need, to efficiently write your
    submission. Please.

    • Suazanne
      Stirling is the only other Council who runs a refuge for women and it is a mystery why their funding was increased in a way that Freo’s wasn’t. Very good staff have been working hard on getting a better outcome but we were not successful on this occasion frustratingly. We have no powers to force the State Government

  3. Bob Sommerville says:

    I think it is a matter that has had serious consideration by COF and seems to have been handled well. I feel there are other issues why violence is directed at women. Men are under a great deal of stress too and this does not stop at the punches and foul abuse. It is a societal issue that is putting people at risk from each other…one punch assaults, road rage, inconsideration across many areas, demanding clients and customers cyclists, vs cars. breast feeding in public…

    Think about how invasive organisations, pressure groups, extreme views, unruly public and social “me too” attitudes, aggressive public behaviour, little respect for Police or just the shop owner down the road. FIFO impacts, long working hours…on and on. Women and kids are impacted. It is not just about the visible evidence put upon families by men.

    That is just my opinion and it is NOT acknowledging in full the battered abused women seeking refuge or those who stay silent. I commend the COF for this action and for Brad’s clarification.

  4. Fiona says:

    I’d just like to congratulate the City of Fremantle on making this difficult decision. State government are becoming far to reliant on local government to financially support services like this, unfortunately the pressure on rates continues escalating and realistically if state govt won’t start ensuring sustainable funding models many more local goats will be forced to draw this hard line.

    I look forward to seeing how the City uses the funds to deliver more services to women in DV situations.

  5. Scott McDonald says:

    Hi, could you please inform me of the current status of the centre? What measures has council put in place to reallocate the funds for victims of domestic violence?

    • Scott
      The service continues as it did before at the same location. Freo Council has committed to reallocating savings from us not running it directly to social services in Fremantle. This year it largely went to keeping the financial counselling service in Freo happening after the state government cut funding. We will look at longer term initiatives at the next budget meeting.
      cheers, Brad

  6. Sophia Moore says:

    I was a client at Warrawee and lived there in September/October 2015. Below is the content of an email I sent to the co-deputy leader of the Greens, and their spokesperson for Women’s Issues Larissa Waters which should explain why I do not support handing over services for the support of vulnerable people to the government to tender out to providers. Especially this current government. I wrote the email soon after leaving Warrawee.

    I have not used my real name, however any mail to the email address I provided should get to me.

    “Good morning,

    I’ve recently left a refuge in the Perth metro area (Warawee) and there are several operational matters that concern me due to their effects on not only my mental health, but the mental health of anyone who is likely to be triggered by having limited control over their own life. I’m sure you’ll agree that covers pretty much every DV victim. I learned quickly that the degree of management and control depended on which staff were scheduled on so the examples below were not universal, however staff behavior was sometimes dictated by rules and protocol, and sometimes by staff discretion ie: making up rules as they went along.

    * I was told I couldn’t have a private conversation with another client in my room.
    When I asked where I could have a private conversation with another client I was informed that if I needed to talk I could talk to staff. When I queried this I was told it was just part of the house rules. I said it wasn’t listed on the rules. I was then told it was for my safety, an answer that was often trotted out when there was no logical explanation.
    * Cleaning fluids are kept in a locked cabinet in the office and handed out for the cleaning roster by staff. They then record when they handed them out and to whom. I asked if they could be kept in a high cabinet in the laundry so clients could access them without being watched and recorded and was told ‘no’.
    * I have an injured back and had to take panadeine forte in order to get through the cleaning. At one extended stage there were only two clients in the house and the other one had a broken sternum. We were both required to fulfill the rostered duties which included sweeping and mopping the floors once a day. I would estimate the area of the floors to be swept and mopped would be in the region of 100m2
    * I asked to be allowed to attend a cooperative housing community dinner in the hopes of making connections to get a home there. I was told that because I’d gone out to a fundraiser movie of an evening a week before, and gone to visit a friend overnight a week before that it was unlikely to be approved. I asked that they reconsider so they got the CEO involved in the decision who granted me permission, but I was made to feel as though I was making a serious transgression of protocol and very lucky to have been allowed to ‘get away with it’. I secured a home at the community at a very good price and that is where I have been living for almost three weeks now.
    * All clients medication was expected to be handed in to the front office, was dispensed by staff, and the amount and time of dispensing recorded. This is in contrast to the trauma informed model which emphasizes that clients should be provided with as much autonomy as possible.
    * I came down with a serious virus on the day I left that kept me bed bound for about three days afterward with fevers, chills, fatigue, and severe body aches. My 8yo son who rarely complains when he is ill had the same illness and the aches were so bad he couldn’t walk. I could barely get out of bed to pack, or clean up my room and at one point on Tuesday had exhausted myself, and the body aches were excruciating. To get to the office I knew I would have to walk a fair distance, and climb a small flight of steps which I knew I would not be able to do without a considerable amount of pain. I called the office on my mobile and asked the duty staff to please bring me some of my panadeine forte so I could finish packing and moving. The staff member came all the way down to my room to tell me that no she couldn’t do that. I had to work my way up the stairs to get it myself. With the time and effort she took to come and tell me that she could have brought it to me. It was the only time I had ever asked for anything to be brought to me in the month I was in refuge. I had not been in the habit of asking for anything to be done for me that I could do for myself.
    * I was offered no help in getting my things to my car, and was expected to clean my room, strip the beds, and launder the bedding even though I was severely ill and in pain. As a result I left several valuable items at the refuge by mistake. The staff generally cleared rooms and stored items clients left behind. I was not informed of my mistake even though the staff had my phone number. I rang a few days later and the staff member I spoke to would not go and check if my items (two MacBooks which I need to run my business) were there or not. I had to wait until I had the transportation resources and had sufficiently recovered from my illness to go and check for myself and recover them.

    * I’ve heard other clients refer to living there as like being in prison.

    * Clients were told when to go to bed, and were not entitled to switch on the heating at their sister refuge, Lucy Saw in Rockingham where I spent my first two weeks in refuge.

    I believe these practices to be retraumatising, not in keeping with trauma informed practice and in need of urgent revision. When I approached the staff to try and find a solution I received pretty passive aggressive reactions from management. I want to try and make sure they understand how inappropriate this type of excessive control is for DV victims so that anyone who is in a position of needing refuge is not put in a similar position. Can you please suggest how I might achieve that aim.”

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