AFLS welcomes the 2021-22 WA State Budget commitment to the legal assistance sector, says more investment in Family Violence Prevention Legal Services is required
Aboriginal Family Legal Services WA (AFLS), a key legal assistance provider in the Pilbara, Kimberley, Mid-West Gascoyne and Goldfields regions, welcomes the State Government’s investment into the legal assistance sector, announced yesterday in the 2021-22 Western Australian State Budget.
AFLS CEO Corina Martin said that the $3.995 million in 2021-22 to respond to the increased demand for legal services due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is a welcome and necessary commitment by the Government to fund Family Violence Prevention Legal Services (FVPLSs) and Community Legal Centres (CLCs), which provide critical legal and other supports to some of the state’s most at-risk and vulnerable cohorts.
“If distributed appropriately, this funding will help services like AFLS to grow our service capacity, address unmet need for legal support in responding to family violence across regional Western Australia, and meet the growing cost of service delivery including payment of staff salaries,” she said. The funding commitment will also enable the service to provide a mix of practical, educational and advocacy supports at an intensive level of engagement, to ensure the needs of clients are addressed beyond the demands of their legal case.
However, AFLS expressed concern over the impending allocation of the funding and said that it fell short in providing the kind of assurance needed for the service, and the sector generally, to continue providing support for clients without being impacted by constraints and uncertainty about the future.
“We recognise the demand for funding in the areas of tenancy advice, consumer, employment and mental health, but the evidence shows that FDV has continued to rise ever since COVID-19 started to impact our lives, and the rates don’t look to be decreasing. Aboriginal women continue to experience FDV at increasingly disproportionate rates, and I am concerned that the failure of the funding commitment to require at least a proportion of the funding to be specifically allocated to FDV will negatively impact the availability of services to those experiencing family and domestic violence,” Ms Martin said.
In particular, funding for FVPLS services in WA has historically fallen short, with limited consideration of the demand for Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations such as FVPLSs to provide services to Aboriginal people experiencing family and domestic violence. Ms Martin said that the State Government must adequately fund Aboriginal organisations to deliver culturally appropriate services that understand the particular history and culture of their service users.
AFLS commended the State Government for recognising the demands of the legal assistance sector and encouraged the Government to work closely and genuinely with service providers to provide culturally appropriate service responses in the sector that will effectively improve outcomes for service users.
AFLS welcomes announcement of standalone plan to address violence in Aboriginal communities, urges Federal Government to properly consider culture and history across different Aboriginal groups and adequately resource Aboriginal Controlled Organisations
Aboriginal Family Legal Services WA (AFLS), a key family violence service provider in the Pilbara, Kimberley, Mid-West Gascoyne and Goldfields regions, welcomes the announcement that Women’s Safety Minister Anne Ruston will work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders to develop a targeted plan to address violence against women in Aboriginal communities.
AFLS has been a long-time advocate for genuine commitment from the State and Federal Governments to partner with Aboriginal communities to address violence against women and children, and recommended the establishment of a separate, dedicated National Plan for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in its submission to the Department of Social Services on developing the next National Plan.
AFLS CEO Corina Martin said that family and domestic violence is experienced in a different context in Aboriginal communities and that Aboriginal people are the authorities on what service responses will work for them. “The social, cultural and political context in which violence occurs in Aboriginal communities is unique to Aboriginal people, as are the deep-rooted drivers and underlying factors that contribute to violence against Aboriginal women. This includes the ongoing impacts of colonisation, intergenerational trauma, socio-economic disadvantage, systemic racism, and discrimination.”
“Addressing violence in Aboriginal communities requires a proper commitment to paying attention to the unique experiences of Aboriginal women as victims of violence and to working with Aboriginal communities to respond to violence in a way that is appropriate for them.”
Ms. Martin also emphasised the importance of recognising differences between Aboriginal culture across regional areas and remote community groups. “The Federal Government must understand that Aboriginal culture varies from community to community, and that dealing with violence in one community may be an entirely different experience to dealing with violence in another. The standalone plan to end violence against Aboriginal women must respond to this reality and be built on an understanding of history and culture as being experienced differently for Aboriginal people generally, and across regional boundaries and Aboriginal communities.”
Trusting Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations to deliver services for Aboriginal people was also raised by Ms. Martin as a critical issue for the standalone plan. “I am concerned that there has been a tendency across Australia, and in Western Australia in particular, for non-Aboriginal Controlled Organisations to receive funding to deliver services to Aboriginal people. The standalone plan must adequately resource Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations like AFLS to support Aboriginal communities to address violence against women and children.”
Ms. Martin commended Minister Ruston for listening to the voices of Indigenous leaders at the National Women’s Safety Summit and said that AFLS looks forward to seeing how the Federal Government listens to Aboriginal communities and Aboriginal organisations in the future, to achieve their shared goal of addressing violence against women and children.
Justice investment in community legal assistance not enough
Aboriginal Family Legal Services WA (AFLS), a key legal assistance provider in the Pilbara, West Kimberley, Mid-West Gascoyne and Goldfields regions, congratulates Community Legal WA on its successful lobbying for a funding investment from the State Government in the legal assistance sector, as recently announced by the Attorney General. AFLS welcomes the investment in Community Legal Centres which, like AFLS, are severely underfunded.
Nevertheless, AFLS has expressed disappointment over the limited reach of the funding into the legal assistance sector over the next four years. The introduction of four-year funding agreements, and an additional $1.85 million for the community legal sector this financial year, will only be extended to Community Legal Centres. Specialist Family Violence Prevention Legal Services like AFLS and Southern Aboriginal Corporation, which provide legal assistance, preventative education and intensive support for Aboriginal victims of family and domestic violence, will not receive any funding under this deal. This is particularly disappointing when the services are members of Community Legal WA, but not ‘member enough’ to receive funding under this State Government arrangement.
AFLS CEO Corina Martin said that critical underfunding of Family Violence Prevention Legal Services in WA has placed constraints on the ability of the services to provide support for clients in need and created uncertainty about their future. “Family Violence Prevention Legal Services are in a particularly strong and unique position to drive systemic change and make a significant impact for Aboriginal people, yet we have been consistently underfunded and under-resourced. The State Government has never funded our services, yet they expect us to share our data, participate in their reference groups, and shape their strategies. This continued ignorance of the critical work we do to support some of the State’s most vulnerable and at-risk people is disheartening and shows continued systematic racism within Government, with an apparent distrust of Aboriginal Controlled Organisations to manage services for Aboriginal people.”
Ms. Martin emphasised concerns about non-Aboriginal organisations receiving funding to deliver services to Aboriginal people. “I am particularly concerned that there has been limited consideration of the demand for Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations to provide services to Aboriginal people, and instead a preference for non-Aboriginal organisations to receive that funding, despite not being Aboriginal controlled and often without an understanding of the particular culture, history and trauma of the Aboriginal people in the regions they operate.”
The growing disparity in demand for high-quality legal services in regional and remote Western Australia and the service gaps created by the State Government’s refusal to make long-term funding commitments to specialist Family Violence Prevention providers will only risk more harm to the communities who cannot be reached, or who only have access to culturally un-safe services.
“The barriers faced by Aboriginal people in accessing legal assistance and the justice system generally are well-established,” Ms. Martin said. “Lack of cultural competency and mistrust of mainstream legal services and their inability to respect the needs of Aboriginal women are issues that will not be resolved by throwing more funding at non-Aboriginal organisations.”
Ms. Martin urged the State Government to make long-term funding commitments to Family Violence Prevention Legal Services in WA, to provide the kind of steady income needed for the services to focus on improving and expanding service delivery across the state. “We look forward to seeing what investment the State Government makes in ensuring the sustainability of the service providers, and its commitment to improving outcomes for Aboriginal people, in the September State Budget,” she said.