Mark Dreyfus MP

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Government's Cruel Legal Aid Cuts Hurting Family Violence Survivors - Mark Dreyfus QC MP

Crucial reforms to protect domestic violence survivors from being cross-examined by their abusers have been put on hold due to the failure of the Morrison Government to properly fund the program

HON MARK DREYFUS MP
SHADOW ATTORNEY GENERAL
MEMBER FOR ISAACS

HON LINDA BURNEY MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR FAMILIES AND SOCIAL SERVICES
MEMBER FOR BARTON

GOVERNMENTS CRUEL LEGAL AID CUTS HARMING SURVIVORS OF FAMILY VIOLENCE.

The Family Law Amendment (Family Violence and Cross-examination of Parties) Bill 2018 banned alleged abusers from directly cross-examining survivors of domestic violence.

Labor called for this bill but warned loudly, clearly and repeatedly that unless the Government committed additional funding for Legal Aid to enable them to provide legal representation, the cross-examination ban would fail.

Unconscionably, Labors warnings were not heeded and for the second time in less than 6 months our concerns have been realised.

In the Family Court of Australia in Brisbane yesterday a case, which has already been before the court for three and half years, had to be put on hold because legal aid funding had run out for a man unable to cross-examine his former partner as a result of the ban.

Justice Forrest said he appreciated the distress it will cause the parties but the court had been left with no option other than to vacate the forthcoming trial dates.

The combination of the legislative prohibition and the absence of funding for the scheme leaves me with absolutely no alternative.

In Brisbane alone, Justice Forrest wrote that 35 trials have been directly impacted by the funding shortfall. As Justice Forrest explained [t]his 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.

That this scheme ran out of funding once already, despite all the warnings to the Government, is a terrible failure by the Morrison Government. That it has now run out of funding a second time in less than six months is a disgrace.

The Morrison Government cannot say it was not warned. In an extraordinary bipartisan report into the scheme in September 2018, the Governments own Senators joined Labor in calling for a guarantee of additional funding for Legal Aid before a bill to ban the direct cross-examination of domestic violence survivors was passed through Parliament.

The Morrison Government could fix this tomorrow with a fraction of the funding it has blown pork-barrelling marginal seats with its sports rorts grants.

If Attorney-General Christian Porter refuses to act quickly to fix this funding hole, and help bring an end to these cruel delays, he will have again shown his Government is all talk, and no action when it comes to helping the victims of family breaks ups and domestic violence.


THURSDAY, 27 FEBRUARY 2020