Hundreds of victims of domestic violence could be left without legal aid under planned government cuts that the opposition yesterday labelled cruel.
The government is also set to cut funding for staff who deal with protection order applications, as it looks to redirect spending priorities under the next phase of its Safer Families initiative.
ACT Legal Aid currently receives funding for frontline domestic violence services from the initiative - employing 2.5 full time equivalent staff - but that will stop in 2021.
The commission's CEO John Boersig told ACT estimates hearings on Tuesday that an axing of the services would have a big impact on the organisation's clients. He said those 2.5 staff currently serviced hundreds of people, mostly women fleeing domestic violence, who would likely go without legal aid if the program was cut.
"The demand remains strong and we are providing a frontline service, primarily to victims.I would hope that is recognised as we negotiate for the outer years," he said.
Dr Boersig said if the funding cut went ahead, the commission would be forced to divert resources from its other programs to continue the vital domestic violence program. "I find it hard in this climate to think that you wouldn't support women who are the primary victims here," he said.
He said he hoped the money would be found elsewhere in the government's budget.
"The case for the needs of front line services is very well made," he said.
"We've got the data to support it." From 2020-2021, the government also plans to cease funding for three court-based roles which help manage protection order applications.
The planned funding cuts were outlined in the government's 2019-20 budget, which was handed down earlier this month.
A total of $242,000 has been allocated to the program next financial year. It's among five programs targeting family violence and child protection which won't be funded beyond 2020-21.
Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay said the decision to cut funding was driven by a rethink in how money raised by the Safer Families Levy should be spent.
The levy, which was introduced in 2016 to provide a steady revenue stream for family violence support programs and services, will raise about $20.2 million in the next four years.
Mr Ramsay said the new model would be more flexible, with a larger proportion of funding targeting early intervention and prevention.
He said delaying the cuts for 12 months would allow the government to assess demand for programs and services, and determine whether they needed to be funded through a different channel.
After the hearing, An ACT government spokesman said the new approach was not intended to "reduce direct support for victims of domestic and family violence".
"We will be working with the affected agencies to look how the functions are best provided and resourced in the future," the spokesman said.
Shadow Attorney-General Jeremy Hanson said the legal aid cuts were cruel and likely to affect Canberra's most disadvantaged.
He said Dr Boersig was in a difficult situation, having to make a decision about what programs he was able to fund.
"They provide legal advice to hundreds of women who are fleeing from domestic violence," he said,
"[The cuts are] unacceptable, they're cruel, and there's no good reason do it.
"As a community, we are working hard to combat domestic violence.
"Cutting funding for vital services will take us backwards, and leave a lot of victims worse off."