Women’s Agenda reported yesterday that Australian of the Year Rosie Batty has called on the Prime Minister to reverse harsh funding cuts to crucial services that assist victims of family violence.
Batty said Abbott’s approach to the issue was “contradictory” given that he has publicly announced his commitment to stemming family violence while at the same time allowing deep federal funding cuts to cripple the services that assist its victims.
One such service is the Women’s Legal Service Tasmania, a legal centre that provides free legal counsel to women escapingviolence at home, among other services. The centre also advocates for law reform surrounding women’s issues such as domestic violence and runs community education programs to equip women with legal skills to empower them to takeaction in dangerous situations.
Women’s Legal Service Tasmania was established by the Commonwealth Attorney General’s Department in 1996. The centre and its solicitors operate predominantly on funding from the Commonwealth Attorney General’s department.
The centre was established because the government of the day determined that women were not receiving equal access to the law as a result of entrenched problems with the justice system and the provision of legal advice. Unfortunately, however, the current federal government has decided to reverse this commitment.
The Abbott government has cut $100,000 from the Women’s Legal Service Tasmania annual funding as part of its sweeping budget cuts announced in recent months. As a result, the centre has had to cut a huge amount of services that it can simply no longer afford to run.
“Over the next two years we’re losing $100,000 dollars each year due to Federal budget cuts which means literallymany hundreds of women and their children missing out on legal support eachyear during some of the toughest times of their lives,” a statement from the centre says.
This means that women escaping family violence may no longer be able to seek legal assistance from the Women’s Legal Service Tasmania and other services like it.
Statistics show that women fleeing violent situations at home are likely to have little access to money and other resources, such as positive relationships, to assist them in escaping the violence they are experiencing. Statistics also show that if women perceive or have experience showing them that they will not be able to access help due to these restricted resources, they are more likely to remain in violent relationships.
These figures demonstrate just how important resources like Women’s Legal Services Tasmania are to victims of domestic and family violence, and how important it is for the federal government to support them and allow them to break down all barriers to access for these victims.
The current federal government does not recognise this, as the recent cuts of $100,000 per year to the centre’s funding will cripple its ability to provide these much-needed services.
Many other services in the family violence sector have been subject to similarly harsh cuts since the Abbott government announced its first budget. A recent Fairfax media investigation revealed that as many as 50 services across Australia are cutting programs, losing staff or closing their doors entirely as a result of these cuts. Overall, the funding cuts are worth $300 million.
So, as Rosie Batty asked, how can our prime minister say in good conscience that he is committed to stamping out family violence when he is allowing his government to cut funding to services that are so crucial in protecting the women and children who are affected by it?