ACT News

Crisis workers, lawyers welcome federal government's family violence unit for Canberra

Domestic violence crisis workers and legal aid services have welcomed federal government funds for a dedicated family violence unit in the capital, while expressing hope any centre would better integrate existing victim support mechanisms. 

Attorney-General George Brandis​ announced on Sunday that community legal centres in all states and territories would receive extra funding as part of the federal government's $100 million family violence package. 

About $15 million would fund free legal and other practical help for family violence survivors through 12 new "domestic violence units" at community legal centres and other providers.

Half of the hubs will be in regional areas, including Dubbo in NSW.

"The locations ... have been selected based on high reported rates of domestic violence and to ensure that women in each state and territory benefit from increased access front-line service delivery," Mr Brandis said.

Domestic Violence Crisis Service ACT executive director Mirjana Wilson said she would like to see more details of what the government had planned and she would be concerned if the plan was to set up a completely new service.

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"If the ACT's going to be given extra money to promote better integration of these legal and family law services, I would not want to see a whole new service set up and them leaving holes and gaps elsewhere."

She said any new approach would need to build on existing support services in the ACT and could be beneficial if it boosted communication and information-sharing across crisis support, health, police, courts and legal services. 

Ms Wilson welcomed the ACT being identified as an area that needed extra funding and support, but was somewhat surprised the capital had been set apart for its high reported rates of family abuse.

"All we we have to go on is what's reported I don't think we could ever draw a correlation that it happens more here.

"But we have had four [domestic violence-related] deaths in a very small community in a very short amount of time and that has probably escalated that quite quickly."

Legal Aid ACT's head of general practice Heidi Yates also praised the extra injection of funds amid increasing demand for help in family violence matters in the ACT, and said it recognised the importance of providing timely legal help to victims.

Ms Yates said victims often had to navigate domestic violence orders, giving evidence in court, child protection matters, custody arrangements and property settlements during times of crisis. 

"It's essential that women feel they can come forward and get confidential and free legal advice from someone in the field who understands the dynamic of violence and that's it's not just about walking out the door."

While she awaited more details of the proposed domestic violence unit, Ms Yates said it was vital any legal service that offered advice to women ensured the safety of women and their children was paramount.

Mr Brandis said the new services would be established by existing legal assistance providers with strong track records of providing high quality services to women experiencing domestic violence.

He said the new units would complement the existing efforts of the sector and state and territory governments.

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