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LEGAL SERVICES LEFT HIGH AND DRY ON FUNDING TO SUPPORT DOMESTIC AND FAMILY VIOLENCE REFORMS

August 10, 2018

Gold Coast Legal Aid services will struggle if the Federal Government refuses to provide additional funding for work stemming from new domestic and family violence legislation.

Today, Shadow Federal Attorney General Mark Dreyfus, accompanied by Senator Murray Watt and Labor Candidate for Forde, Des Hardman, will meet with legal, community and police services on the Coast to discuss reforms to help support victims of domestic and family violence.

In particular, legislation currently before the Parliament to prevent domestic violence victims from being cross examined by their abusers.

Shadow Federal Attorney General, Mark Dreyfus, said the legislation was a positive step to protect victims of domestic and family violence, but more needed to be done to ensure local community legal services could handle the increased workload.

“It is unacceptable that, within our current court system, perpetrators are given the chance to re-traumatise their victims by grilling them on the stand,” said Mr Dreyfus.

“The government has been incredibly slow to act on calls for reform – it’s four years since the Productivity Commission called for this change to happen and nearly two years since COAG called for the cross-examination of victims to be eliminated.”

“In November 2016, Labor announced its policy for cross-examination reform which included $43 million for Legal Aid to take on the representation of unrepresented perpetrators.”

“While we are pleased to see the LNP finally act on these long awaited reforms, it is incredibly concerning that there has been no mention of additional funding for Legal Aid services.”

Under the government’s proposals, Legal Aid lawyers must now also take on unrepresented perpetrators when directed or requested to do so by a judge.

Senator Murray Watt, who is based on the Gold Coast, said this would hurt the Coast in particular.

“Over the past couple of years on the Coast we have seen a number of tragedies stemming from domestic and family violence,” said Senator Watt. “We know that the Gold Coast is a hotspot for domestic and family violence, and that local services are already struggling under the demand.”

“Any community legal service on the Gold Coast will tell you that they are already stretched to the absolute limit. Under the government’s proposals, they must now also take on unrepresented perpetrators when directed or requested to do so by a judge. There is no way this extra workload can be taken on without extra funding.”

Labor Candidate for Forde, Des Hardman, said that this is not the first time community legal services have suffered under the LNP.

“The LNP’s track record on supporting and funding our community legal services is atrocious,” said Mr Hardman.

“Last year, they attempted to cut funding for community legal centres by 30%.”

“For the Gold Coast Community Legal Centre, that cut would have meant losing both of its domestic and family violence lawyers, leaving victims without legal support.”

“Now, they are stretching our Legal Aid services to breaking point, pushing more and more work on them without any funding assistance.”

“Unfortunately the Gold Coast LNP MPs have not stood up and demanded more funding for our community legal services.”

“It is up to the LNP to explain how local services can meet increased demand without any extra funding.”  

“It is incredibly important that this overdue change is given the resources necessary for it to work. Domestic violence victims can wait no longer.”

A FAIR GO FOR AUSTRALIA