Women's Legal Service
Wednesday 18 May, 2016
Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. J.S. Lee:
That this council—
1. Congratulates the Women's Legal Service for celebrating its 20th anniversary in October 2015;
2. Acknowledges the significant work and commitment of the Women's Legal Service in achieving justice for women, including the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, and women from culturally, linguistically diverse background;
3. Highlights the collaborations and partnerships made throughout its history; and
4. Acknowledges the remarkable achievements by the Women's Legal Service as a community legal centre for women.
The Hon. T.A. FRANKS ( 17:12 :56 ): On behalf of the Greens, I also rise to express our support for this very important motion. I thank the Hon. Jing Lee for moving this motion in our chamber to give us the opportunity to note and wholeheartedly support the recognition of the significant contribution of the Women's Legal Service. It is just one of the many community legal centres committed to the cause of social justice and fairness, as well as justice, of course. I express my sincere congratulations to them on the significant milestone of their 20th anniversary.
One would think that with a 20-year track record like this, we would see them going from strength to strength. They certainly do incredibly important work for some of our society's most vulnerable members or members of our society in their most vulnerable times. The service helped more than 2,500 women last year, one in two of whom were victims of domestic violence or, as I would prefer to say, survivors of domestic violence. Yet, it is facing cuts of up to 50 per cent.
According to the Women's Legal Services President, Ms Zita Ngor, the service works with about 200 Aboriginal women a year, two-thirds of whom are also suffering family violence.
Furthermore, one out of five women who access the centre have a disability, and one in five are homeless or at risk of homelessness. But time and time again the message is clearly being sent by the federal government that the Women's Legal Service and, in fact, all community legal services are not valued and are not being supported with the commensurate funding that they need to do their job to ensure protections for these most vulnerable members of our community.
If the federal government proceeds with slashing legal aid funding, the Women's Legal Service in our state may be forced to drop its 300 cases next financial year and cease outreach services to rural and remote areas such as Ceduna, Port Augusta, Coober Pedy and, of course, the APY lands.
As noted, or lamented indeed by the Law Council of Australia, this year's federal budget continues to underfund legal aid to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. The federal government has not only stood by these budget cuts, these savage budget cuts that were announced in 2014, but has announced further cuts for 2017. This will result in $12.1 million being stripped from our community legal centres and a further $4.5 million stripped from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service.
The federal government may hold up funding for specialist domestic violence units around the country as a commitment to treating what is a scourge—the scourge of domestic and family violence in this country. However, while the unit run by the Legal Services Commission at Elizabeth will assist that particular area, what are those survivors across the rest of our state left with?
I support calls on all levels of government to commit the additional $200 million per year identified by the Productivity Commission as being required to adequately fund all legal assistance services in Australia, and congratulate our legal community for raising its ire at this savage cut. I note that the Law Society of South Australia just yesterday held a rally in Victoria Square and reiterate and draw to the attention of this council their demands which read as follows:
Australian governments must:
1. Increase the commonwealth's share of Legal Aid Commission funding to 50 per cent with the states and territories. This would amount to an addition $126 million in the 2016 commonwealth budget.
2. Immediately provide a further $120 million to cover civil legal assistance with the states and territories contributing $80 million, comprising a total of $200 million as recommended by the Productivity Commission.
3. Immediately reverse further commonwealth funding cuts to legal assistance services announced in 2014 that are due to take effect from July 2017. These include :
(a) $12.1 million in cuts to community legal centres;
(b) $4 million in cuts to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services ; and
(c) all cuts directed at policy and advocacy work conducted by legal assistance bodies as recommended by the Productivity Commission.
We have heard just today on a very important report, I believe, by the Social Development Committee on family and domestic violence. We know as a nation that this is one of the most serious challenges that we have in our communities. Certainly I think you cannot say that you stand against domestic violence and family violence in this country and oversee cuts to the very services that support our most vulnerable and, in this case, the Women's Legal Service.