Australian of the Year Rosie Batty has called on Prime Minister Tony Abbott to reinstate lost funding to community services after cuts made in last year's budget.
Ms Batty, whose son Luke was murdered by his father in February last year, has questioned why the government would announce a national scheme for domestic violence orders at the same time as legal services that help victims prepare to shut their doors because of the cuts.
This week Mr Abbott was widely criticised after announcing Ms Batty would advise state and federal governments on the new "control order" system in a press conference Labor and the Greens said was called to distract attention from his escalating political problems.
A Fairfax Media investigation has uncovered more than 50 different services across Australia that are cutting staff, closing entirely or slashing programs. The groups provide victims of domestic violence with services ranging from applying for intervention orders to obtaining emergency food and medical supplies.
Ms Batty voiced her concerns directly to the Prime Minister's office on Friday to say the cuts, worth nearly $300 million, were at odds with the Prime Minister's public stance on family violence.
"It is a double standard, it is contradictory and totally undervaluing the part that these workers play in our front line services," she said.
She has spoken out because the services will begin to close their doors in four weeks as the first cuts – effective February 28 – begin to hit. Further cuts kick in on July 1. The cuts are across the departments of the Attorney-General, Social Services and Prime Minister and Cabinet, which has cut a further $534 million from Indigenous funding.
Andrew Broad, the Nationals MP who has campaigned for a national scheme on intervention orders, has also spoken out: "If you are going to highlight an area of concern with the government, ultimately to effect change you need to resource that area," he said.
Community organisations are in chaos as they wait to hear whether any funding has been renewed for their service or for others in their areas. The government has told providers that there will be alternative resources for women but none has been announced. Homelessness services and financial counselling across Australia have also been cut.
The National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services, which specifically work with Indigenous families across 14 organisations, will be forced to close unless new funding is found.
In Victoria alone, another 14 community legal centres will lose front line family violence specialists.
In NSW Burwood Community Welfare Services, which operates six direct programs to Sydney's inner west dealing with housing and homelessness to financial counselling, has had all its funding cut.
And Heidi Yates, the executive director of the Women's Legal Centre (ACT and Region), which covers large areas of southern NSW, says the centre will have to turn away 500 women a year.
It will lose $100,000 in federal funding over the next two financial years – the equivalent of nearly two-thirds of a full-time lawyer. They assist 1200 women a year but are constantly overwhelmed by demand.
"We are looking at a massive cut," she said. "Better legal structures are essential but we need dollars on the table for the front line legal assistance services that we already know will suffer cuts from July1."
Another Blue Mountains-based service, which lost $125,000, will no longer be able to provide either emergency food or emergency medication for women and children.
Angelique Sasagi, the manager of the Blue Mountains Family Support Service, fears that women and children will be forced to travel great distances for emergency provisions.
Lisa-Maree Stevens, the manager of the Murray Mallee Community Legal Service, says the one full-time lawyer specialising in intervention orders and family violence work has learned her contract will not be renewed from July 1. Last year, that lawyer single-handedly dealt with 150 intervention orders.
"We cover 120,000 square kilometres and 10 shires, we can't risk losing any staff," she said.
"Women and children all over Australia will be turned away from Community Legal Centres because we can't keep up with the demand," said Michael Smith, the convener of the National Association of Community Legal Centres.
In the first half of last year the Attorney-General, George Brandis, repeatedly assured Community Legal Centres that the cuts were directed only at policy and law reform activity but the May 2014 cuts targeted direct legal services for disadvantaged and vulnerable clients, said Smith.
A spokesperson for the Prime Minister's Office responded by sending a transcript of the Prime Minister's press conference on Tuesday. The Attorney-General's office did not respond.
The Australian Services Union will hold a rally in Sydney to campaign against the closures on Thursday, February 26, two days before the funding is cut.