Federal Government’s family violence commitment ‘in the balance’, community lawyers say

November 25, 2015 |

The Federal Government’s commitment to stopping family violence is in the balance, with doubts remaining over funding for free legal help for women through December’s Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO), says the Federation of Community Legal Centres (Vic).

‘With Wednesday the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and the start of the United Nations 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, family violence demands prominence in our national debate,’ said executive officer, Liana Buchanan, today.

‘While the Federal Government has committed to tackle family violence and signalled in September that a national intervention order scheme would be implemented this year, any such scheme will be undermined by deep cuts to community legal centres that help women secure intervention orders through the courts.

‘Prevention, including through attitudinal change, is absolutely vital to stop future violence, but the Federal Government urgently needs to invest in help for the many women for whom family violence is a reality right now.

‘If women can’t get legal help with intervention orders or family law, if they can’t find a refuge or access housing and support services, or if they can’t get help with financial hardship, they may be forced to return to violent relationships at often deadly risk,’ Buchanan said.

Nationally, family violence is the second most prevalent specialist issue for community legal centres. In Victoria, it’s the top issue, with a 27 per cent increase in family violence legal advice in 2014–15 on the previous year, and a 17 per cent increase in family violence cases opened in the same period. Last year 40 per cent of new cases initiated by Victorian community legal centres related to family violence.

‘In July this year, despite steeply increasing demand, the Federal Government locked in a 30 per cent 2017 national cut to community legal centres that are already chronically underfunded. If it proceeds with these cuts the Federal Government is effectively turning women away from legal help and positioning itself as a bystander to family violence.

‘September’s Women’s Safety Package featured welcome recognition that women escaping violence need access to free legal help, but it went nowhere near addressing the planned 2017 cuts. The Productivity Commission has acknowledged the massive funding shortfall for legal assistance services, but the Federal Government is yet to respond to its report nearly a year after its release, Buchanan said.

In Senate questions without notice on 13 October 2015, Senator Michaelia Cash acknowledged the cuts to community legal centre funding, and said funding would be looked at as part of the MYEFO or budgetary processes.

‘The acknowledgment of the cuts is welcome, but through the MYEFO the Federal Government will answer a critical question about its real commitment to ending family violence.

‘Women deserve assurance from the Federal Government that fundamental services for victims of family violence will be properly funded. We look forward to seeing that assurance as part of the MYEFO process in December,’ Buchanan concluded.

For media interview and inquiries

Liana Buchanan
Executive Officer
Federation of Community Legal Centres
0407 189 221

Darren Lewin-Hill
Communications Manager
Federation of Community Legal Centres
0488 773 535