If the Abbott Government really wants to help Aboriginal families, it would reverse the decision to strip $3.5 million from the National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services, says policy analyst and Yorta Yorta woman, Summer May Finlay.

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Vulnerable families to be hard-hit by funding cuts

Summer May Finlay writes:

The Prime Minister, the self-proclaimed “Indigenous Prime Minister”, has been making significant changes to the face of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs in the short time he has been in office.

Nigel Scullion, Minister for Indigenous Affairs, on the 13th of February announced that he has asked the House of Representatives Standing Committee to inquire into and report on the harmful use of alcohol in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. A number of priorities in the Terms of Reference focus on families and children.

While the government has recognised in the inquiry that alcohol-fuelled violence is an issue for many women and families, last year in the Mid-Year Fiscal and Economic Outlook the government decided to strip $3.5 Million from the National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services over the next three years.

The government claims that it is only defunding legal services policy and advocacy, and that the cuts will not affect frontline services. Antoinette Braybrook from the National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services says they are not funded for policy and advocacy, therefore the funds will affect their ability to represent women and children affected by violence.

In many instances when an Aboriginal woman is assaulted, it is by an intimate partner who has been drinking alcohol. Antoinette Braybrook says Aboriginal women are 34 times more likely than the rest of the community to be hospitalised because of family violence.

The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey found 23.4% of respondents reported violence or threats of violence in the 12 months prior to the survey, with 41.7% of assaults perpetrated by an intimate partner, with women bearing the brunt of these assaults.

While alcohol-fuelled violence is not limited to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, it is triggered by a number of different historical and social factors.

Alcohol is recognised as a key contributor to domestic violence, particularly in communities where there are a number of social issues such as housing shortages, high unemployment and racism. These factors are understood well by the National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services.

A recent government report into reducing family violence in Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander communities says mainstream services aren’t always appropriate. 

They often do not have the capacity to adequately support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people when in domestic family violence situations.

Multiple mainstream agency involvement is required and communication can be compromised because of large caseloads. Many mainstream agencies also lack the understanding of family violence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and therefore are not culturally appropriate and cannot assist clients adequately.

The Family Violence Prevention Legal Services have shown that they are necessary, and were heavily quoted in the Family Law Council’s Improving the Family Law System for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Clients, a report to the Attorney General/Family Law Council, in February 2012.

The report identified issues relating to access to family services, including the lack of cultural awareness and sensitivities of court and court reporters, mainstream lawyers’ inability to ask the right questions to determine if family violence has occurred, and the cost of travel to court as a barrier – to name a few.

Without the Family Violence Prevention Legal Services, these issues would not have been raised nor addressed. Clients would go to court without adequate support.

While the inquiry into harmful alcohol use might make a difference for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children in the long-term, many need support now.

If the Abbott Government recognises that alcohol-fuelled violence is an issue in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, they must understand the need for Family Violence Prevention Legal Services to help families.

• Summer May Finlay is a Yorta Yorta woman, and the article above expresses her personal views. She has a Bachelor of Social Science and a Masters of Public Health, and has worked at the AH&MRC and VACCHO. You can read more about her at The Guardian.

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References 

Weatherburn D, Snowball L. (2012) Is there a cultural explanation for Indigenous violence? A second look at the NATSISS. In: Hunter B, Biddle N, editors. Survey Analysis for Indigenous Policy in Australia: Social Science Perspectives. Canberra: ANU E Press.

Cripps K. and Davis M. (2012) Communities working to reduce Indigenous family violence Brief, Indigenous Justice Clearinghouse.

Commonwealth of Australia (2012), Improving the Family Law System for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Clients, A report to the Attorney-General prepared by the Family Law Council.

 

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