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FactCheck Q&A: what are the facts on funding for domestic violence legal services in Australia?

Writer and actor Nakkiah Lui, speaking on Q&A. Q&A

FactCheck Q&A: what are the facts on funding for domestic violence legal services in Australia?

The Conversation is fact-checking claims made on Q&A, broadcast Mondays on the ABC at 9.35pm. Thank you to everyone who sent us quotes for checking via Twitter using hashtags #FactCheck and #QandA, on Facebook or by email.


Excerpt from Q&A, November 21, 2016. Watch from 5.10.

… I think cuts to frontline legal services for victims of domestic violence … I think there was $35 million was cut from the Coalition to frontline legal services – that doesn’t help. – Writer and actor Nakkiah Lui, speaking on Q&A, November 21, 2016.

In response to a question regarding violence against women and children, Q&A panellist Nakkiah Lui said that a A$35 million cut to frontline legal services “doesn’t help.”

Is it true the Coalition government cut $35 million to frontline legal services for victims of domestic violence?

Checking the source

When asked for sources to support her statement, Nakkiah Lui referred The Conversation to an October 2016 news report by The Guardian, which said:

These cuts include $35m from Community Legal Centres, which provide frontline support services to domestic violence victims.

She also cited two Community Law Blog articles from June 2016. Lui said that:

The Federation of Community Legal Centres has addressed the funding cuts with passion and integrity - I hope they are listened to and supported as they are very much needed.

You can read her full response here.

What are Community Legal Centres?

In Australia, frontline legal services for people who are disadvantaged are delivered by a mix of Community Legal Centres, Legal Aid Commissions, Family Violence Prevention Legal Services and National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (NATSILS).

Community Legal Centres are not-for-profit organisations. Some services offered by Legal Aid Commissions are free. Both of these organisations receive Commonwealth funding under the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services, which runs from 2015 to mid-2020.

For Community Legal Centres and Legal Aid Commissions, services for people experiencing domestic and family violence are in extremely high demand.

Is it true $35 million has been cut?

It hasn’t been cut yet. But a $35 million cut in federal funding (spread over three years) is on the way.

Under the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services (the agreement under which Community Legal Centres are funded) the federal government plans to reduce future funding for Community Legal Centres over three years. Compared with 2016-17 levels of $42.2 million, Community Legal Centre funding will be reduced by:

  • $12.1 million in 2017-2018
  • $11.6 million in 2018-2019
  • $11.2 million in 2019-2020

That adds up to $34.9 million over three years. The cuts will be shared across more than 160 Community Legal Centres across Australia. So, compared to 2016-17 levels, Community Legal Centres are set to lose about $35 million in funding between 2017 and 2020.

So Nakkiah Lui’s statement is correct. But her quote doesn’t quite tell the whole story.

Additional funding for Legal Aid and other services

The federal government has announced other funding for Community Legal Centres and other services that support victims of family and domestic violence.

Under the same National Partnership Agreement on Legal Services that would result in the $35 million cut, the federal government promised a $12 million increase in funding for Legal Aid Commissions between 2015 and 2020.

In September 2015, the federal government announced $100 million in funding for women and children at high risk of experiencing violence. The announcement was part of the Women’s Safety Package.

In this package, $15 million was committed over three years to establish 12 new specialist domestic violence units within a number of legal assistance providers.

These specialist domestic violence units will be set up by Legal Aid Commissions and Community Legal Centres across the country. In addition to legal assistance, they will offer practical help, such as access to counselling and crisis accommodation.

In October 2016, the federal government announced its Third Action Plan to reduce family violence. The funding package includes $30 million for “frontline legal assistance and family law services” over three years and provides:

  • $5 million to 11 Community Legal Centres and two Legal Aid Commissions that received funding under the Women’s Safety Package, to extend that funding for one year until 2019
  • $18.5 million to Legal Aid Commissions for integrated duty lawyer and social support services in family law courts
  • $6.2 million for Family Relationship Centres to pilot family dispute resolution for vulnerable families, particularly Indigenous and culturally and linguistically diverse families, and
  • $300,000 to the Attorney-General’s department for data analysis across the sector to enhance understanding of domestic, family and sexual violence.

Overall, there have been decreases in funding for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (ATSILS) too. But in October 2016, the Coalition announced a further $25 million to:

help frontline services to intervene early to prevent violence from occurring, while also addressing the drivers of violence in Indigenous communities.

But it’s not clear if any of this funding will go to ATSILS.

The funded activities under this package will include therapeutic services, perpetrator rehabilitation programs, family case-management and legal services.

Are legal services being adequately funded?

The Productivity Commission recommended in 2014 that an extra $200 million a year was needed to ensure proper provision of legal services to disadvantaged people. It recommended $120 million of this increase should be provided by the federal government.

Overall, federal funding to date has fallen far short of the Productivity Commission’s recommendation.

One of the aims of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children is to improve access to justice for women and children.

As recognition and reporting of domestic and family violence increases, the demand for legal services by victims (and perpetrators) is likely to increase.

People experiencing or escaping domestic and family violence require integrated legal help in relation to protection orders, family law, child protection and criminal matters, especially breaches of protection orders.

People fleeing domestic and family violence also regularly seek legal services for housing, credit and debt challenges and access to social security.

Verdict

Nakkiah Lui was right – Community Legal Centres are set to lose about $35 million in federal funding between 2017 and 2020.

But her quote doesn’t tell the whole story (which is often the case on a fast-paced live television show). Other additional funding has been promised for Community Legal Centres, Legal Aid Commissions and other services that support victims of family and domestic violence.

Overall, federal funding to date for legal services for disadvantaged people has fallen far short of the Productivity Commission’s recommendations. – Heather Douglas.


Review

This is a sound analysis of the federal funding that has been cut (and promised) to family violence legal services. The author is correct to note that Nakkiah Lui was right to say that the federal government has announced cuts of $35 million for Community Legal Centres. However, as this analysis rightly reveals, there are multiple funding announcements that need to be taken into consideration when assessing federal funding levels.

The author rightly notes that, regardless of current and promised funding, there is an ongoing unmet need. – Kate Fitz-Gibbon


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