Family Violence - Speech to Parliament

I rise to speak against the Abbott government's funding cuts to the Whittlesea Community Legal Service in Epping, and to highlight to this chamber the significance of this to the rapidly growing communities of the Scullin electorate and indeed also the electorate of McEwen.In 2013, the Labor government committed $480,000 to this legal service over four years. These were hard-won gains, and I pay tribute to Harry Jenkins, the former member for Scullin, for his endeavours over many years in lobbying for the establishment and funding of this service.

I also acknowledge the contribution of the member for Isaacs, the then Attorney-General, in this regard. This legal service employs front-line lawyers and support staff to help with family law, mortgage stress, employment law, child protection matters and also consumer law, and this additional funding helped the legal service meet the demand for domestic violence and family law services in Melbourne's north—a demand which is growing at an extraordinary and troubling rate.

Unfortunately, the present government has decided that it will not honour the final two years of this agreement. Funding levels will now be reduced by $120,000 a year from 1 July this year. This will result in a significant reduction in the legal service's capacity to support people with a range of legal matters—in particular, family violence.

This impact will be compounded by the fact that funding for another lawyer working with the local Family Relationship Centre to assist separating couples with legal advice, casework and legal education will also be withdrawn in the 2017-18 financial year. This is deeply concerning and, indeed, distressing, as Melbourne's north is consistently overrepresented in family violence statistics.

So, recently, I met with my colleague the member for McEwen and state members from Melbourne's north to hear from Jemal Ahmet and Peta Falau from Whittlesea Community Connections about the difference Labor's funding had made to, and the devastating effect the Liberals' cuts will have on, our communities. The legal service is the entry point for almost 80 per cent of Whittlesea Community Connections' domestic violence clients, of which they see more than one every working day. Whittlesea Community Connections advises that demand for services related to domestic violence grew by more than 29 per cent over the last year.

Victoria Police statistics show that the City of Whittlesea has one of the highest family violence rates in the northern metropolitan region, increasing by 35 per cent over the last two years. Over the last 14 years, there has been an increase of 268 per cent. Incidents of family violence increased last financial year to 2,359, and 60 per cent of all the assaults recorded by police arose from family violence.

These are shocking statistics. And so, while I welcome the focus by the Abbott government on ending family violence, ultimately the women of Melbourne 's north need more than just talk and announcements. The cuts to this legal service in Epping have to be some of the cruellest cuts of all. I call on this government to match its rhetoric with action and to honour the full agreement with Whittlesea Community Legal Service, maintain its existing levels of funding and do justice to vulnerable women in Melbourne's north.


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