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Tuesday, 13 October 2015
Page: 7454

Senator URQUHART (TasmaniaDeputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (15:23): So we have learnt today that Minister Cash continues to fabricate figures, rewrite history and deny the indisputable. She has misrepresented the effects of free trade agreements on job creation by a factor of more than 30. In doing so, the minister ran perilously close to misleading the Senate. She has today, I note, corrected the record on this misinformation that she provided to the Senate. So what are we to believe now?

She has tried to hoodwink the Australian people into thinking that savage cuts to community legal services are nothing but a scare campaign. Today I would like to focus on this. The Abbott-Turnbull government's deplorable cuts to legal services have had devastating consequences for Australian women who are seeking to find a way to escape family violence. As Minister for Women, Senator Cash has again tried to misrepresent reality and pretend that the cuts are a figment of Labor's imagination. Tragically, one woman dies every week at the hands of a current or former partner. Domestic violence is a national tragedy, and it has gone on too long. The Abbott government sat on its hands. I am not going to argue that the new government has done nothing to address domestic violence. In fact, I congratulate those opposite on the commitments that have been made in recent weeks. It has been a long time coming, but there are some commendable actions. But it is simply not enough. It is estimated that Australian police deal with 657 domestic violence matters every day; that is one every two minutes. This is a crisis, and there is absolutely no justification for a government that says it is committed to addressing the scourge of domestic violence to maintain short-sighted and damaging cuts to community legal services.

Labor recognises and applauds the recent decision to return the $15 million to legal assistance services to help women experiencing domestic violence, but the Liberals' record on this is clear: those opposite have cut $24 million from community legal centres, those opposite have slashed $15 million from legal aid commissions, those opposite have hacked $13 million from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services, and those opposite have forced family violence prevention legal services to retender for their funding after they were axed from the Attorney-General's Department. We know how these cuts have impacted in Australian communities. We have seen programs cancelled. Women in need are turned away at the door, and staff have been laid off. While we acknowledge that the government has been forced to walk away from some of these cuts, not all have been reversed. The reality is that its new national partnership agreement locks in future cuts to community legal centres, which will lose almost a third of their funding from 2017-18. This is not acceptable, and the minister has not been truthful about how hard these cuts will hit.

But you do not need to take my word for it. Just listen to the voices of people who will have to deal with the fallout—people like ARC Justice Executive Officer Peter Noble, who told it like it is when he said that arguments over semantics of cuts or non-renewed funding do not change the reality on the ground:

Whichever way you look at it, it will hit community legal centres nationally.

National Association of Community Legal Centres Chair Michael Smith confirmed that the deal locks in a national 30 per cent funding cut from 2017-18 and has seen immediate cutbacks in some areas. Mr Smith pointed out the clear disconnect between the government's words and its actions when he said:

This is at odds with the government's rhetoric on … family violence across Australia.

Community legal centres provide some of our most important front-line protections and services to enable women to escape family violence. Australian Legal Assistance Forum Chair Mark Woods brought the issue home clearly when he said:

Lack of legal assistance can be a major barrier to victims escaping violence or putting their lives—and their children's lives—back together.

If women are going to be able to do this, they absolutely need appropriate advice and support. As Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said recently, these cuts must be reversed, or we will not even have got to where we were before the 2013 election. If the government is truly committed to ending the scourge of domestic violence, this funding must be restored. If Minister Cash wants to salvage any credibility, she needs to fight for these cuts to be reversed and start being honest with the Australian people. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.