Domestic violence victims could be hit by WA State Government cuts
Government Backs Down
THE WEST AUSTRALIAN: Domestic violence victims could be hit by WA State Government cuts
by Phoebe Wearne and Gabrielle Knowles
Thursday, 13 July 2017
The State Government is being urged to avoid cuts to family violence services at Perth courts as domestic assault rates across WA reach record levels.
Domestic violence victim advocates have warned of Justice Department plans to reduce the number of full-time support staff available to help victims apply for family violence restraining orders.
The union representing the workers claims plans to “centralise” applications would mean victims had to initially apply for a VRO online.
“The proposed structure reduces staffing at a time when reports of family violence in the community have increased,” Community and Public Sector Union/Civil Service Association secretary Toni Walkington said.
“Our members hold concerns for vulnerable and often traumatised clients who may need assistance with seeking orders face to face.
“We have been in contact with Government in relation to our members’ concerns.”
There are six centres, each staffed by two victim-support workers, at courthouses in Perth, Joondalup, Midland, Fremantle, Armadale and Rockingham.
WA Women’s Council for Domestic and Family Violence Services policy officer Kedy Kristal said she understood the proposed changes could cut support hours to part-time, so assistance would not be available every day.
Ms Kristal said those hours would be replaced by a centralised system, with VROs to be applied for online and in-person support provided to those deemed to be in need.
She warned of the dangers of applying for a VRO on a computer that could be monitored by a violent partner.
“What it actually means for victims is if they finally get to the point where they want to take some action and leave an abusive partner, and they go to the court, there’s a great possibility they won’t get any help,” Ms Kristal said.
“The face-to-face is crucially important.
“This is where women fall through the cracks, and this is where women end up getting hurt or killed because nobody knows what’s happening for them and it all gets too hard.”
One of Australia's largest superannuation funds wants domestic violence victims to be given early access to their super so they can have financial help when they need it most.
Police Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan said the victim support workers played a key role in helping domestic violence victims navigate a complex justice process.
Without their help, victims could feel helpless, not know how to proceed with a VRO application and face “further escalation of family violence”, he said.
A Justice Department spokesman denied the Government planned to centralise restraining order applications to online “at this time” and said changes would not reduce face-to-face services.
“Online applications for restraining orders may be considered at a future time as one of the ways of lodging an application,” he said.