An interim report on domestic violence in Australia was released by the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday 19 March, calling for a reversal of severe funding cuts from community legal services and front line domestic violence services including housing and homelessness services.
The report also recommends a $200 million sustained funding boost. The report has called for all levels of government to work together to increase the capacity of front line services and peak advocacy groups. Redfern Legal Centre and Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service (WDVCAS) NSW Inc. endorse the report and its recommendations in full.
Total federal funding for Community Legal Centres has been cut by more than $19 million over a period of 4 years. The sector has already suffered $4 million in cuts, with the remaining $15 million in cuts to be implemented over the next two years, beginning 1 July 2015. Redfern Legal Centre which runs the Sydney WDVCAS, that assisted 1819 clients last year, is set to lose half of it’s solicitors from July.
CEO of Redfern Legal Centre, Jo Shulman said, “WDVCASs and Community Legal Centres are often the first point of call for women experiencing domestic violence. Cutting these services will only make it harder for women and children trying to escape family violence.”
“In light of the Committee’s findings, in the lead up to the NSW state election, major political parties need to make stronger commitments to addressing the escalating number of domestic violence homicides,” said Helen Brereton, Executive Officer of NSW Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service Inc. (WDVCAS NSW Inc.).
Domestic violence is the leading cause of preventable death, injury and illness for women in Australia. 22 women have been killed in domestic violence incidents in Australia this year, increasing the statistics to two women a week. “The time for talking has been and gone,” she said. “This Senate Committee report echoes what we hear from report after report, and what we know from working on the ground.”
The Senate report recognises the important role that Community Legal Centres play in providing access to justice for victims of domestic violence, working in partnership with and hosting schemes such as Safer Pathway Local Coordination Points in NSW.
Local Coordination Points (LCPs) are part of the NSW Government 2014 “It Stops Here” Reforms to address domestic violence. LCPs receive instant referrals from Police and other government and non-government service providers, conduct risk assessments with victims of domestic violence and connect victims with essential support services.
“Community Legal Centres and Safer-Pathways LCPs are a great partnership,” said Jo Shulman, CEO of Redfern Legal Centre which hosts the Waverley Local Coordination Point. “CLCs play a pivotal role in providing an accessible access point to legal help and further specialist services for victims of domestic violence.”
“Safer Pathway Local Coordination Points are the coordinated whole-of-government integrated response to domestic violence we have been waiting for,” said Ms Brereton.
Ms Brereton expressed her disappointment that recently announced NSW Government domestic violence election policy prioritises a new portfolio for the Minister for Women and a pilot domestic violence disclosure scheme instead of the further full funding and rollout of LCPs across the state.
“Neither will provide the urgent, comprehensive support needed by domestic and family violence victims in NSW right now”, Ms Brereton argued.
Ms Brereton said that while WDVCAS NSW Inc welcomed the commitment by both parties that funding would be provided for four more host sites for LCPs at Bankstown, Broken Hill, Parramatta and Tweed Heads Community Legal Centres, “There are another 22 designated LCP sites in NSW which remain unfunded, with no funding commitment in the Government’s election campaign to supporting them”, she said.
“Instead, we are seeing cuts to specialist women’s domestic violence services and cuts to Community Legal Centres which provide necessary legal support to women experiencing domestic violence”, said Ms Brereton. “It is just as important that once LCPs are identifying that victims are at serious threat, the services are there at the end of the referral pathway to catch women.”
“That necessitates investment in services that specifically target the ongoing health, housing, justice and legal needs of women, particularly those in vulnerable, and disadvantaged communities. “
Rochelle, a frontline worker at the Waverley LCP said, “I’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response from women I speak to about the new system. One client said to me, “If only this new response had been available to me when I first tried to leave my partner.”
“The solutions are on the table” said Ms Brereton, “It’s time for whichever party is elected into power on 28 March to take the next step and commit to properly funded services and the Reforms that we know are working in our communities.”
Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service NSW Inc. is the peak body for 28 Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Services across NSW. WDVCAS workers support women to access legal protection for themselves and their children.
Redfern Legal Centre is a community legal centre providing a one-stop shop approach to accessing legal advice for vulnerable people including victims of domestic violence.
Media Contacts: Joanna Shulman, Chief Executive Officer, Redfern Legal Centre: 0401933789 Helen Brereton, Executive Officer, WDVCAS NSW Inc. 0474-779-847 Tanya Whitehouse, Chair, WDVCAS NSW Inc. 0412- 903- 392