Women’s Legal Services in Queensland are preparing to double in size following the Federal Government’s pledge to increase funding for Women’s Legal Centres over the next four years.
The Women’s Budget Statement promises $129 million over four years for increased legal assistance funding to help women access justice. This funding is to be directed specifically to women’s legal centres, to enable these providers to respond to increasing demand for assistance with domestic violence matters.
Queensland has three women’s legal services – Women’s Legal Service Queensland in Brisbane, the North Queensland Women’s Legal Service with offices in Townsville and Cairns, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Women’s Legal Service, also based in Townsville. Each service contributed to a National Costing model which mapped unmet legal need for women at risk of experiencing domestic or family violence.
Together the three Queensland Women’s Legal Services need over $25.6 million in additional funding every year to reach vulnerable women across the State. The Federal Government’s recent funding commitment holds the promise of significant change.
Anne Lewis, Director of North Queensland Women’s Legal Service, welcomed the announcement. “We are pleased that the Federal Government has recognised the importance of investing in the work of specialist women’s legal service around Australia.”
“There are many challenges for women living in rural, regional and remote communities across Queensland including access to free legal assistance and support when escaping domestic violence. This new funding will significantly increase access to specialist legal help and will be life-changing for many Queensland women.”
“Calls from women asking for help have increased by up to 50% since the start of 2021. Now, this additional funding effectively means we can double our services for Queensland women. More women and children can be kept safe and protected from domestic violence. We will be able to help support more women who want to re-build their lives.”
Julie Sarkozi, on behalf of Women’s Legal Service Queensland, said additional funds would allow the Service to expand specialist domestic and family violence services, including family law, legal advice, assistance and representation services for more even women in Queensland.
“This injection of funds and the corresponding increase in our resources will result in more women being able to receive timely and nuanced legal information, assistance and representation to meet the highly complex matters that are often a nexus of cultural issues, geographical isolation, financial and social inter- dependency, safety concerns and numerous legal systems responses,” Ms Sarkozi said.
“Women’s Legal Services Queensland is currently unable to answer 30% of calls made to our Statewide Helpline – which amounts to us having to turn away an estimated 10 women an hour.
“These 10 women may be calling in life threatening situations, desperate to find out what their legal options are when faced with the competing legal obligations and restrains of the family law system, the domestic and family violence system and the child protection laws.
“These women deserve to be provided with specialist and relevant legal advice and assistance that is provided in a non-judgemental, understandable and gender appropriate manner, which prioritises their and their children’s safety and wellbeing.
“We hope that answering and responding to these 10 extra women per hour will lead to safer, happier and more just outcomes for Qld families.”
Cathy Pereira, Principal Solicitor of the Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Women’s Legal Service, said that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Legal Services NQ (“ATSIWLSNQ”) welcomes the announcement.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women experience domestic and family violence at higher rates than other groups in the community and are 33-35 times more likely to be hospitalized due to domestic and family violence (DFV).”
“The current unmet legal needs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women is exacerbated by barriers to accessing legal advice and representation which cannot be overcome with the current minimal level of funding. Barriers include remoteness, lack of culturally competent services, lack of legal information on the ground to assist women to recognize and act on DFV and lack of specialist women’s legal help for applications and representation for a domestic violence Protection Order.”
“The impacts on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and their children are enormous, ranging from loss of housing to children being taken out of school to remove them from DFV, to children being removed by Child Protection authorities and women traumatized and overwhelmed by the experiences of DFV and getting trapped in circles of violence due to the lack of services to assist them.”
“The current situation is a human rights tragedy and yet the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Legal Services NQ is the only gendered legal service for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in Queensland. The funding will enable ATSIWLSNQ to provide a gendered, culturally safe specialist legal service to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in Queensland including women in regional and some remote areas. The funding will protect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women legally and empower them to begin to unravel the trauma, the fractured lives that children in DFV experience and the social and economic impacts of domestic and family violence. “
Women’s Legal Services in Queensland are ready to roll out an expanded network of services across the State and will work together with a collaborative service plan to ensure the new funding reaches as many vulnerable women and their children as possible.