My Adjournment debate is for the Attorney-General. COVID-19 has exacerbated family violence issues, with the Crime Statistics Agency reporting that family violence related offences increased 11 per cent in the year ending 31 March 2021. Breaches of family violence orders in this period grew by 18 per cent. Family violence is growing, and therefore we need additional resources to assist women and children in gaining legal assistance. Recently, I met with Barwon Community Legal Service in Geelong. They operate across Geelong, Surf Coast, Queenscliffe and Colac Otway. Over 60 per cent of their work is helping those who have or are experiencing family violence. Their catchment area is huge and has a growing number of family violence incidents. For instance:
• Geelong’s family violence grew by 8 per cent last financial year
• Surf Coast shire has seen a 31 per cent increase
• Golden Plains shire has had a 38 per cent increase.
Family violence safety notices also grew significantly in these areas. To try and combat family violence and reduce the danger victim-survivors are in and to get in front of them earlier, BCLS developed an early intervention partnership with Barwon Health. The BCLS health-enhancing legal pathways (HELP) program builds on Strengthening Hospital Responses to Family Violence which educates health services on the signs of family violence. Here a lawyer is integrated within the health service to take referrals for legal assistance and support patients to get the legal help they need. It also incorporates a program to educate the hospital’s social work team to identify legal problems associated with family violence. This essentially means that where BCLS would generally see victims at crisis point they’d now be providing early access to legal help before crisis point. This early intervention can increase safety and the ability for the client to move on with their lives after relationship conflict. HELP is philanthropically funded through the Anthony Costa Foundation until June 2022—and I thank them for that—but beyond this, it will require government funding to continue. BCLS have put forward a costing schedule which would be a cost of $1.3 million over three financial years. It will allow them to expand their current offering under the philanthropic funding to assist 850 more victimsurvivors. This new model will allow a person to be co-located at Colac Area Health as well as Barwon Health and fund an evaluation. An evaluation is obviously essential to ensure best practice is developed and to record the benefits of the program for future funding bids. I am concerned that new commonwealth community legal sector funding announced in the federal budget will be allocated to specialist metro services, leaving vulnerable regional and rural Victorians without access to crucial services. BCLS simply can’t meet demand on their current funding base. BCLS have directed core funding to service an integrated legal assistance partnership with the Orange Door, Barwon. There is funding available for a pilot program, and BCLS are well positioned to build on their current model and implement a best practice program that can be rolled out statewide. I would be grateful if the Attorney could speak to the Minister for Prevention of Family Violence, Minister Williams, about this important funding need as I’m sure she’d be extremely supportive of continuing the HELP program. As the Attorney-General administers the DJCS funding for community legal centres, the action that I seek is for the Attorney to direct her department to explore funding arrangements for Barwon Community Legal Service’s HELP program to ensure it is funded beyond June 2022.