Funding hole puts Gympie domestic violence victims at high risk
THOUSANDS of our region's domestic violence victims will be left in limbo when Women's Legal Service Queensland drastically reduces its statewide telephone support service on July 1.
WLSQ has warned the number of Gympie locals it helps in the next 12 months will be cut in half if the Queensland Government rejects its plea for an extra $300,000 a year in Tuesday's state Budget.
The service responded to about 2200 calls for help from the Gympie and Sunshine Coast regions in the past 12 months.
However, about 1100 calls went unanswered due to a lack of funding that cut staff hours.
The number of calls not answered will double in the coming financial year as WLSQ is forced to reject 13,000 calls for help across the state.
The situation is so dire that the charity has been forced to think outside of the square to raise money.
In the past few months it has held morning teas, sausage sizzles, trivia nights and even second-hand clothing stalls to keep the helpline operating.
Attorney-General Yvette D'Ath ruled out giving WLSQ the $300,000, telling NewsRegional the organisation already received about $1.25 million a year from state coffers.
WLSQ Rural, Regional and Remote solicitor Julie Hearnden said women living in smaller communities had problems accessing legal help because their abusive partners were often clients of the area's only lawyer.
Ms Hearnden said survivors usually had no money to pay legal bills as abusers controlled the family's finances and legal aid was usually not an option as the women might work or there could be assets in their name.
"Women in regional areas are at higher risk of domestic violence,” Ms Hearnden said.
WLSQ helps women with a range of legal issues including applying for a protection order and navigating family law processes.
CEO Angela Lynch said the State Government was putting lives on the line.
"The cuts will hit regional Queensland the worst because our statewide helpline is a main access point for regional Queenslanders,” Ms Lynch said.
"We don't want another woman and her children to suffer alone simply because of a budget line item.
"Legal advice is essential to safety. There are lives on the line.”
Ms D'Ath said many "worthy” domestic violence organisations competed for government funds and each one had to go through a "rigorous” process to receive money.
She said WLSQ would get about $4 million over three years.
"The WLSQ received a substantial amount from this rigorous grants process - $3.6 million over three years,” Ms D'Ath said.
"WLSQ also received extra payments specifically for their helpline, including $100,000 in September 2015, and an additional $100,000 per year from 2016-2019.”
Shadow domestic violence prevention minister Ros Bates said the State Government needed to dig deep for WLSQ if it was serious about helping domestic violence victims.
"Any cut to existing funding arrangements for WLSQ will have a negative impact on their ability to assist vulnerable victims,” Ms Bates said.
Legal service helps survivor win court battle
WHEN Jennifer realised she needed to leave her abusive partner, she turned to Women's Legal Service Queensland for help.
She said leaving was extremely hard because her abuser controlled her money and alienated her friends and family.
"I was destitute and abandoned. I felt and thought my life was over,” Jennifer said.
"I couldn't get legal aid and definitely couldn't afford a private lawyer.
"Living in a small town there was no help on the ground. I felt like I was fumbling in the dark. I felt so alone.”
At the end of her tether, Jennifer contacted WLSQ and the lawyers there gave her the information she needed to self-represent through the court process.
"I have been able to represent myself in court eight times against my violent ex-partner,” she said.
"The WLSQ solicitors showed empathy and understanding to what I was facing.”
Jennifer urger the Queensland Government to back the WLSQ's call for more funding.
"Without access for people like me in the country, I wouldn't have had advice about the law and my own safety to help me stay alive,” she said.
"I don't like to think what would have happened if I hadn't made that call.
"Cutting the helpline will mean women like me won't be able to get through.”
- For 24-hour domestic violence support in Queensland phone DVConnect on 1800 811 811, MensLine on 1800 600 636 or the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732.
AT A GLANCE
Women's Legal Service Queensland is a frontline domestic violence service.
The service responded to about 2200 calls for help from the Sunshine Coast and Gympie regions in the past 12 months.
About 1100 calls went unanswered due to a lack of funding that will see staff hours cut.
About 275 calls went unanswered due to a lack of funding that will see staff hours cut.
WLSQ provides free support with protection orders, child arrangements, separation rights for victims and other help with other legal areas.
50% of calls to WLSQ already go unanswered due to capacity constraints.