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Federal government cuts threaten ACT domestic violence interpreter services

Federal budget cuts are set to leave funding for interpreters for non-English speaking women subjected to domestic violence in limbo and could force the ACT's crisis workers to glean savings from other vital support services.

Domestic Violence Crisis Service ACT executive director Mirjana Wilson said disrupted access to translators and interpreters would widen barriers already experienced by victims with English language difficulties and impact their ability to access support and legal counsel.

The federal government has footed the bill for the service's access to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection's around-the-clock Translating and Interpreting Service for clients in the past, but that funding is set to be axed in June.

Costs for workers engaging TIS National's on-call translators and interpreters to help them communicate with clients for free stood at more than $15,000 in 2013-14 and were on track to reach $20,000 this year.

Ms Wilson said the service would have to shave funds from its in-demand 24/7 crisis phone line or other support services, or would have fund-raise, if the ACT government was not prepared to meet the shortfall in the next financial year.

"I'm a little bit incensed it isn't seen as a human rights issue," Ms Wilson said.


"We need to be able to communicate with these women."

Women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds made up nearly 16 per cent of the service's clients last financial year.

Those women included non-permanent residents on spousal or student visas, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, and interpreting complex legal issues to them was often very difficult.

"What we have to go through with them is how to safety plan, what their legal options are, if there has been a legal order then what's going to happen, we have to go through court dates and what's going to happen at each of those court dates," Ms Wilson said.

"What we are doing is making sure they're as well-informed as possible and what we don't want to do is rely on other family members or children because that's fraught with all kinds of different issues."

She said women from different cultural backgrounds often feared systems in place in Australia and communication barriers would put minority groups at risk of being further marginalised. 

"There's fear of shame and ostracisation  from their communities if they report the violence, a lack of understanding of the legal system, the role of police and child protection services and how those services come into their life and affect their life."

Ms Wilson said the organisation would call on the territory government to stump up the funds in a pre-budget submission.

"I would like the government to see that it is a fundamental human right to be able to seek information and I would welcome a positive decision to see that is included into our funding the way other services are.

"Also a recognition that there are added barriers and complexities and that needs to be taken into account."

Victim Support ACT acknowledged interpreters were a common means of communicating with victims of crime who did not speak English, and support agencies should be resourced to provide services wherever possible, in an internal report last year.

The report pointed out some victims of crime could feel reluctant to use face-to-face interpreters, and said benefits of the TIS National interpreters were that they operated 24/7 and were bound by a confidentiality agreement.

An ACT government spokesman said while it would look at ways to ensure people who spoke English as a second language got the help they needed, the territory community couldn't afford to "plug every gap the Abbott Liberal government leaves".

Domestic violence crisis workers in the ACT have braced themselves for details of further federal government cuts to the sector, which are expected to be detailed in coming months.