Budget Analysis: Federal Government continues to fail domestic violence victim survivors

Here's Fair Agenda's early analysis on how this budget deals with the domestic violence epidemic.

Funding for the services women rely on to get safe

Prime Minister Turnbull has recognised domestic violence as a national disgrace. But tonight’s budget suggests it’s still not being treated as a national priority. Women will continue to be left without the services they need to get safe.

It's good news that the Federal Government have extended existing funding for vital homelessness services and reversed planned cuts to legal assistance. But the Turnbull Government still isn’t providing the scale of additional service funding needed to address the fact that thousands of women being left without access to services they need to be safe.

Victoria just announced $1.9 billion of additional funding to address this issue in just one state. That’s the kind of commitment we need on this issue. But Fair Agenda's early analysis suggests that the Federal Budget provides only around $50 million for additional capacity in domestic violence related services.

Fair Agenda notes that a number of family violence services remain unable to meet demand:

  • Family Violence Prevention Legal Services report that up to 30% of women contacting the service have to be turned away because they don’t have the capacity to support them.
  • In South Australia, the Crisis Service estimates the increase in demand for their service over the last year could be as high as 30%. What’s more, the services the they rely on to assist women in crisis are also consistently at capacity – making it extremely rare that a woman in crisis can be placed into a specialist service directly. Women deserve better from our Governments.
  • Community Legal Centres are no longer facing cuts – but still don’t have the funding they need to address the fact that they’ve been having to turn away more than 160,000 people a year including women affected by family violence.

Victoria has shown the scale of commitment needed to address domestic violence. A woman’s ability to escape domestic violence shouldn’t depend on the state she lives in.

Fair Agenda’s early analysis of the domestic violence related budget measures is below.

Funding for additional capacity:

  • $3.4 million over two years to expand the trial of Domestic Violence Units in legal centres, and 
  • $10.7 million over four years to employ additional family violence consultants at Family Law Courts.
  • $12.7 million to establish Parenting Management Hearings - a new forum for resolving family law disputes between self-represented litigants.
  • $5 million of additional investment in Community Legal Centres (There is also $34 million in cuts reversed)
  • $18.2 million to establish Family Advocacy and Support Services by Legal Aid Commissions, which will provide integrated duty lawyer and family violence support services.

Relevant by not additional funding:

  • $375 million to extend homelessness service funding – is a vital extension of funding for critical frontline DV services that will allow them to continue assisting people at the same level. This is a positive announcement, but won’t enable additional capacity.
  • The previously announced $55.7 million of funding for legal assistance services is also a positive announcement – but is almost entirely a reversal of cuts to services. Only about $5 million of this can be considered to going towards additional capacity, and that is spread over three years and the 100+ Community Legal Centres operating in Australia.

Existing funding commitments (i.e. not new money) mentioned in the budget:

  • $7.5 million to support a series of trials to test technology to improve the safety of women and children affected by domestic violence


Other announcements

There have been two other positive announcements made by the Attorney-General overnight.

1. Cross examination reform

Last night there was also a very positive announcement around our campaign to reform the Family Court rule that means survivors of domestic violence can be forced to endure direct cross-examination by their abusers in court. 

The Attorney-General has announced that the Government will soon release amendments to the Family Law Act to address this issue. These amendments will be subject to public consultation, and we may need to do further campaigning to ensure they’re adopted – but this is a really big, and positive step forward.

Thanks to all the Fair Agenda members and survivor advocates who have helped speak out on this issue over the past year. In partnership with our friends at the Women’s Legal Services and Never Alone we have helped build the pressure needed to make this announcement possible.

2. Family Law Act reform

The Turnbull Government have also announced a comprehensive review into the family law system. The first since the Act was first introduced in 1976. 

This will pave the way for long term fundamental reform of the system, and is a promising development to help deal with the risks around family violence in the family law system.

Importantly, the issue has been referred to the Australian Law Reform Commission who will conduct the review with a view to making recommendations around reforms.

This is an important area to keep an eye on - as we know there are a number of powerful groups who oppose recommendations from the Women's Legal Service and other domestic violence experts. But this announcement by the Attorney-General is a very positive and promising one.