Shadow Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Jenny Aitchison has challenged the Berejiklian Government to come clean on planned changes being made to the Women’s Domestic Court Advocacy Service (WDVCAS). WDVCAS is the key organisation in delivering the government’s signature Safer Pathway Program for helping survivors to escape Domestic Violence.

This week, the NSW Government quietly released a request for tender for non-government, not-for-profit organisations to operate the WDVCAS across the state. The tender documents are only available to pre-qualified or invited tenderers.

Ms Aitchison has raised concerns about secrecy of the tender documents, given the Liberal Government’s poor record on tendering out of specialist domestic violence services. In 2014, the NSW Government’s disastrous “Going Home Staying Home” policy saw the closure of refuges around the state and a halving of funding from $40 million.

Tender details for WDVCAS reveal a reduction in the number of the existing 29 Court Advocacy Services to 26, foreshadowing significant changes to regional boundaries. The WDVCAS only covers 117 of over 135 courts around the state where domestic violence cases are heard.

NSW Labor has previously highlighted that the Berejiklian Government’s re-engineering of NSW Police had failed to recognise the importance of the WDVCAS and Safety Action Meetings in reducing family and domestic violence. If the number of services is reduced and boundaries are increased, there will be increased costs for accommodation and transportation for service providers, as well as issues with maintaining localised networks and knowledge bases with other service providers.

There is no publicly available information about the details of the request for tender, particularly in terms of its focus on multicultural, Aboriginal, disability, ageing, youth or LGBTIQ clients. For example, WDVCAS currently has no specific funding to provide translating and interpreting services, and this has to come out of existing funding, reducing the number of clients who can receive the service. The Government has also failed to provide public information about the length of time for proposed contract periods.

The Government’s contracts for domestic violence services have generally included “gag-clauses” which have limited the capacity of service providers to advocate for more funding. When the Safer Pathway program was introduced, services experienced a 100 per cent increase in workload with no additional funding. It took six months before the Government provided a measly 20 per cent increase to WDVCAS.

Quotes attributable to Shadow Minister for Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault and Acting Shadow Minister for Women Jenny Aitchison

“The NSW Government has an appalling track record on dealing with domestic violence service providers. Not just with WDVCAS but women’s refuges, women’s health centres and other community based domestic violence specialist services. We can’t let them destroy another service by failing to properly fund it.

“The Berejiklian Government needs to come clean on what its plans are for WDVCAS and how it will guarantee that vulnerable clients and special areas of need are not neglected.

“WDVCAS needs significant investment to keep up with increasing levels of domestic violence, not yet another unfunded restructure which will spread the money even thinner across services.

“The Premier says her priority on domestic violence is reducing recidivism rates, yet when women and children come forward to services that are under stress, with limited referral points, they will stop reporting, and recidivists will continue to offend.”

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