Funding hole puts Gladstone domestic violence victims at high risk
HUNDREDS 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 Gladstone locals it helps in the next 12 months will be halved if the Queensland Government rejects its plea for an extra $300,000 a year in Tuesday's state Budget.
The service responded to about 550 calls for help from Gladstone, Mackay, Rockhampton and Bundaberg in the past 12 months.
However, about 275 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 often 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 Catherine realised she needed to leave her abusive partner, she turned to Women's Legal Service Queensland for help.
The Central Queensland resident told NewsRegional her life would have been very different without WLSQ's support.
Catherine could not afford a lawyer so she needed guidance to help her self-represent when applying for a domestic violence protection order.
Her estranged husband breached that order four times and even tried to take out a DVO on Catherine.
"I felt defeated when I received his application for a protection order against me," she said.
"I had no legal background and did not know the Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act.
"Through the Women's Legal Service helpline I received so much help and advice that I decided to represent myself and contest my ex-husband's application for a protection order against me."
WLSQ helped Catherine prepare her case and ultimately she was successful in having her abuser's DVO rejected.
"They were extremely knowledgeable, helpful and understanding," she said.
"My caseworker made a point to contact me the morning of the court case and answered some very important questions that particular morning.
"Women's Legal Service assisted me in fighting for my livelihood and survival. Without it I would have been in debt for many thousands of dollars."
* 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.