Government backs down on legal aid cuts amid calls for domestic violence funding

Attorney-General George Brandis (AAP)

The government has backed down from planned cuts to legal assistance, including those targeting domestic violence victims.

The axing of the planned cuts to legal aid, which were due to take place in July, means that $25.5 million will remain for frontline legal services.

Attorney General George Brandis told reporters today the decision to reverse the planned funding cuts - $15 million from legal aid commissions and $6 million from community legal centres - was made in coordination with Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Mr Brandis said discussions had also been held with community legal centre, which he described as the “front line against domestic violence”.

"We do need to protect the most vulnerable people in the community," he said.

Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women Michaelia Cash joined Mr Brandis for the announcement, saying the government was “actively addressing” domestic violence.

“Just in 2015 alone, two women each week this year have been murdered at the hands of a current or former partner,” Senator Cash said.

“And that is why this government has made the issue of the reduction of domestic violence a national priority and that is why we have it listed as an agenda item for the next COAG meeting.”

Senator Cash also outlined funding the government had previously committed to domestic violence, including $6 million over two years to the Northern Territory to focus on Indigenous victims.

'Yearly cost of domestic violence in Australia totalled $13.6 billion in 2008-09'

The announcement follows the release an interim report into the impacts of domestic violence.

The Senate Committee report issued on March 19 had called on the government to reverse funding cuts, stating that the yearly cost of domestic violence in Australia totalled $13.6 billion in 2008-09, with costs increasing since.

The report also called for funding under the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness be guaranteed, a recommendation acted on by Social Services Minister Scott Morrison on Monday.

Mr Morrison said the government would provide $230 million as part of the agreement, which would focus funding on services for domestic and family violence victims.

In a statement, he said he had also written to state governments seeking support.

“The Coalition Government recognises that domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness and that women and children are particularly vulnerable,” he said.

“The Government will therefore be ensuring that funding priority under the extension will be given to homelessness service providers that work with women and children in these situations.”

Further comment has been sought from Social Services Minister Scott Morrison.

‘It looks like this has already had an impact’

Victims of domestic violence could also receive payouts from the government as the result of an inquiry into the impacts of domestic violence.

Though not included in the interim report, Senator Larissa Waters told SBS payments to domestic violence victims could not be ruled out in the future.

“Perhaps that will be something that arises in the course of us preparing our final report,” she said.

“The legal question is whether a woman would have redress against a level of government for a failure to provide support services.”

The report had nine recommendations focussing on funding and increased cooperation between organisations and authorities.

Senator Waters said the government could fix funding issues “with the stroke of a pen”, and welcomed the announcement by Mr Morrison.

“It looks like this has already had an impact and I am hopeful it will continue to have an impact as those budget decisions get made in the coming weeks,” she said.

The interim report also called on “urgent consideration to reinstate the Banned Drinkers Register” in the Northern Territory.

The final report is expected to be tabled in June. 

Read the Interim Report into Domestic Violence in Australia in full.

Source SBS

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