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Issue #1655      September 10, 2014

New fears for future of FVPLS

New Commonwealth funding guidelines have sparked fresh concern for the future of the Family Violence Prevention Legal Services (FVPLS) program nationally. Under changes released last month, the services are no longer recognised as stand-alone programs or as a core service model that provides frontline legal assistance. Instead, they may apply for funding as one of many potential activities under a broad “safety and wellbeing program” alongside health, welfare and other service providers.

National FVPLS Forum convenor Antoinette Braybrook says it’s not even certain that legal services can apply.

“By abolishing our direct allocation of funding, the Abbott government is essentially de-funding the FVPLS program which has been in existence for 16 years,” said Braybrook, who runs the Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service Victoria.

“The FVPLS program is already reeling from funding cuts and now vulnerable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children are being put at greater risk.”

Last December, the federal government announced a cut of $3.6 million over three years to the national FVPLS program which costs $20 million a year. Braybrook says the economic cost of domestic violence has been estimated at $14.4 billion a year, or 1.1 % of Australia’s gross domestic product (total annual production nationally).

Aboriginal Family Law Services WA chief executive Mary Cowley says cuts to services “will inevitably mean fewer victims of family violence will have access to legal and support services to keep them safe.”

Indigenous women are 31 times more likely to be hospitalised as a result of violence and 15 times more likely to seek support from homelessness services to escape family violence. Despite this, those affected have limited access to legal advice and representation.

The FVPLS program provides frontline legal and other support to those affected, in areas including intervention orders, victims of crime assistance, child protection and family law.

“We were created because Aboriginal victims – mostly women – were falling through the cracks,” Braybrook said.

“The reasons we were established have not changed – Aboriginal women are not accessing mainstream services and continue to be conflicted out of Aboriginal legal services. Without this program, many women and children escaping violence will have nowhere to go.”

Koori Mail

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