Media release: Taking gendered violence seriously means funding services that keep women safe

30 April 2024

The community legal sector is calling on Commonwealth, state and territory governments to urgently invest in community legal centres so that they can keep their doors open and continue providing the services that women escaping violence rely on to stay safe.

For decades, women’s legal services have provided expert legal assistance to support women to escape and recover from domestic and family violence, and to advocate for better laws and policies to achieve justice, safety, and gender equality. Generalist community legal centres also make domestic and family violence services their core business. Family law and family violence services represent the highest proportion of services delivered by community legal centres across the board – in 2022-23, 78% of community legal centres provided domestic and family violence services.

Community legal centres deliver a range of services that are critically important to supporting women who are experiencing or at risk of domestic and family violence: family law services, sexual harassment services, child protection services, social security services, tenancy services, financial abuse services, and more. In 2022-23, over two thirds of centres provided family law services, almost a third of community legal centres provided sexual harassment services, two fifths provided child protection services, and over half provided financial abuse services.

A funding and workforce crisis is putting the community legal sector’s ability to deliver these crucial services at risk. Centres are struggling to meet overwhelming need in the community and are being forced to reduce services and close outreaches. In 2022-23, community legal centres were forced to turn away over a thousand people a day, and nine out of ten centres experienced an increase in demand for their services. The community legal sector is 2,000 workers short of what is required to meet the community’s need for support.

Quotes attributable to Arlia Fleming, Deputy Chairperson of Community Legal Centres Australia and CEO of Central Tablelands and Blue Mountains Legal Centre

“As a frontline service provider, we specialise in supporting victim-survivors of domestic and family violence. However, without sufficient funding, our ability to deliver essential services is severely compromised. This is putting vulnerable individuals and families at risk.

“We already have a consistent 3-week waitlist. Without access to our services, victim-survivors may be forced to remain in unsafe environments. Without early intervention and support, the long-term social and economic costs of domestic and family violence will continue to escalate.

“The Commonwealth Attorney-General has ruled out a federal royal commission into domestic violence because he believes the government should focus on implementing policies it has already identified. That must include funding the services that provide legal support to women experiencing or at risk of violence.

“Our sector’s capacity to respond to community legal needs has reduced under this Federal Government. As the legal assistance sector moves into the final year of our funding agreement, we need the Federal Government to invest $125 million for 2024-25 to keep centres afloat.

“We also need to see future funding levels locked into the forward estimates to give the sector certainty as we enter a 12-month negotiation around the next national funding agreement. People experiencing violence deserve to feel certain that the services they rely upon will continue to exist after 1 July 2025.

“We implore the Federal Government and all community stakeholders working to keep women safe to recognise the importance of adequate funding for frontline services in our national response. The time to act is now.

“Together, we can ensure that no one in our community is left without the resources and support they need to escape violence and rebuild their lives.”