Sad truth about federal DV funding pledge
THE Federal Government has been accused of paying lip service to domestic violence victims after dozens of Family Court trials had to be abandoned when crucial federal funding dried up.
Bar Association of Queensland president Rebecca Treston QC slammed the funding shortfall, saying it was particularly alarming in light of the renewed focus on domestic and family violence in the wake of the murders of Hannah Clarke and her three children in Camp Hill last week.
"It is simply not enough for governments to speak about holding further inquiries into domestic violence," Ms Treston said.
"Continuing, reliable and adequate financial support for legal aid will make a substantial difference to the protection of families and children.
"It is frustrating that at least some solutions are already available to prevent these terrible tragedies from happening again, but governments just fail to act."
At least 35 cases have been impacted by the funding shortfall but Attorney-General Christian Porter said he only learned of the shortfall yesterday morning and had "immediately reallocated" money to top up the scheme.
Experienced Family Court Justice Colin Forrest this week described the situation as a "significant crisis" in his reasons for an adjournment of a trial for a matter that had been before the courts since August 2016.
Justice Forrest said during the trial which was due to begin next month, the self-represented father wanted to cross-examine the mother.
But new laws which came into effect in September prevent the cross-examination of a witness personally by a former partner in cases where there have been allegations of family violence or charges or convictions relating to violence or threats.
"In the middle of last week, the Court received notice from Legal Aid Queensland that the additional funding provided by the Federal Government for the scheme had again run out and that there are no funds available to provide legal representation for the father in this matter," Justice Forrest wrote.
"Unfortunately, in my considered judgment, that leaves the Court with no option other than to vacate the forthcoming trial dates … I sincerely regret having to do this."
Justice Forrest said the adjournment due to the funding shortfall was not an isolated case with more than five trials listed in the Family Court and more than 30 in the Federal Circuit Court impacted by the funding shortfall.
"This is a significant crisis that will only get substantially worse very quickly without an amendment to the legislation or the immediate provision of adequate funding for the scheme to operate effectively as it was intended," he said.
The Attorney-General said he only learned of the shortfall yesterday and had reallocated $1.19 million to top up the scheme.
"I immediately raised it with the Secretary of my Department and have requested a full briefing on how this has occurred in this matter, and the circumstances surrounding it," he said.
*For 24-hour domestic violence support call the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or MensLine on 1800 600 636.