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Budget ’23 did not fix ‘broken promise’ of previous government: WLS Australia

On Tuesday (9 May), Treasurer Jim Chalmers handed down the 2023–24 federal budget, with an increased focus on gender equity. However, one legal organisation has said that vital legal support for women experiencing violence is lacking in the budget.

user iconLauren Croft 11 May 2023 SME Law
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In what is the second budget since the Albanese government was elected in the 2022 federal election, Mr Chalmers submitted what he called a budget to provide cost-of-living relief, “historic investments” in Medicare and the care economy, and embrace clean energy.

“These are the foundations on which our government is building a stronger economy and a fairer society, with greater security in a time of economic uncertainty, more opportunities in more parts of our country, and a renewed determination for Australia to make the most of the defining decade ahead,” he declared.

The government is set to provide $68.6 million, over two years from 2023–24, to support family violence prevention legal services providers to deliver legal and non-legal support for First Nations victim-survivors of family, domestic and sexual violence.


It will also undertake an initial review to inform the development of a national standard for government data on lost, missing, or murdered First Nations women and children.

And, as announced earlier in May, the federal government will invest $14.7 million in strengthening the way the criminal justice system responds to sexual assault and to prevent further harm from being done to victims through the justice process.

While many of these new measures and funding allocations support a focus on building gender equity, Women’s Legal Services Australia has said these measures must be matched with resourcing for services on the ground in local communities.

According to WLS Australia chair Elena Rosenman, “investments that are designed to unlock women’s economic participation and support women with cost-of-living pressures demonstrate that the government is committed to putting equality and respect at the heart of economic growth”. 

“However, it is imperative that when women seek help, from Launceston to Katherine, the doors of frontline services are open to welcome and support them,” she said. 

The National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children 2022–2032 recognises that Women’s Legal Services are key to enhancing access to equitable justice outcomes for victim-survivors — yet Ms Rosenman said that the budget does not match this. 

“We are disappointed the government has not taken the opportunity to fix the broken promise of the previous government, [which] allocated $129 million to Women’s Legal Services in the 2021–22 budget but delivered less than half to our services

“The budget does not include an increase in funding for Women’s Legal Services, which means we will now be forced to reduce staff and turn away hundreds of women from receiving legal assistance,” she added.

“We welcome the significant investment in First Nations women’s safety. However, two First Nations Women’s Legal Services, Wirringa Baiya Aboriginal Women’s Legal Centre and First Nations Women’s Legal Service Queensland, did not receive any additional funding. These services are already having to regularly turn away First Nations women who need their help.” 

Despite this, WLS Australia welcomed the allocation of $71 million in the budget to make the family law system safer and simpler for parents and children, including support for property settlements, increased legal representation and alternative dispute resolution for Hague Convention cases, and increased access to mediation.

Spokesperson Yvette Cehtel said the organisation was “pleased the budget includes additional funding for legal representation and alternative dispute resolution in Hague Convention matters — this will address a significant inequality in access to justice”.

“It is currently only the parent remaining in Australia who has access to free legal assistance, so this funding will enable women who have taken a child overseas to receive the support they need to leave a violent relationship,” she said.

The extension of the Temporary Visa Holders Experiencing Violence Pilot for an additional seven months until January 2025 was also a welcome addition to the budget — but more funding is needed moving forward.

There will be an investment of $10 million to expand the family violence provisions within the Migration Regulations to most permanent visa subclasses so as to ensure that visa applicants, including secondary applicants for permanent visa subclasses, offshore temporary partner visa applicants, and prospective marriage visa holders, “do not feel compelled to remain in a violent relationship to be granted a permanent visa”, according to the Treasurer.

“This is a welcome lifeline, but the pilot has already been extended multiple times, and the lack of funding certainty makes it difficult for our services to plan for the future,” Ms Rosenman added.

“If the government is committed to supporting women on temporary visas to escape and recover from violence, there needs to be an ongoing commitment to investing in Women’s Legal Services to provide this vital assistance to women.

“In just one year of the pilot, specialist women’s legal services across Australia worked with more than 750 women on temporary visas to stay safe and access the legal, financial and social service supports.”

This comes after Women’s Legal Services Australia, representing 13 Women’s Legal Services, including two First Nations services and National Legal Aid, as well as the eight state and territory legal aid commissions, joined together in support of the Family Law Amendment Bill, due to be debated in Parliament this week.

According to National Legal Aid chair Louise Glanville, in 2021–2022, legal aid commissions provided over 23,000 grants of legal aid for family law matters nationally.

“Family violence is a factor in nearly 86 per cent of all legally aided cases before the family law courts. From our work, we see how important it is to consider the best interests of children and the safety of victim-survivors. The changes proposed in the Family Law Amendment Bill appropriately put the best interests of children at the heart of care arrangements for families post-separation,” she said.

“The Family Law Amendment Bill is based on recommendations made by the Australian Law Reform Commission’s inquiry into the family law system, which involved extensive consideration of the issues and consultation with a wide range of experts.”

These changes, Ms Rosenman added, are “long overdue and will significantly improve the family law system’s ability to ensure the safety of victim-survivors and children”.

“We hope that the Australian Parliament will consider the bill with an understanding of what these changes will have on victim-survivors and children affected by domestic and family violence and the considerable support they will have amongst the community and help ensure it is enacted as swiftly as possible,” she said.