Legal aid funding boost needed to stop femicide crisis

Australia's domestic and family violence policies need a dramatic overhaul to tackle the mcrisis, legal aid services say.

Australia is experiencing a spate of high-profile femicides, with 35 women murdered due to gender-based violence, according to online-feminist group Destroy the Joint.

An estimated 52,000 women facing domestic violence were turned away from the Women's Legal Services Australia, with the organisation citing resource shortfalls.

A woman sits with her head in her hands.
Fears are mounting that domestic violence victims are falling through the cracks. (Diego Fedele/AAP PHOTOS)

As attorneys-general from every state and territory meet on Friday in Canberra to discuss funding of legal aid services, National Legal Aid and Women's Legal Services Australia are urging them to adopt a suite of recommendations.

A national family violence risk information sharing scheme and register should be a top priority as National Legal Aid executive director Katherine McKernan says this would protect victim-survivors from recounting their trauma.

"Make sure their safety is prioritised and limit the number of times that they need to tell their story to remain safe," she said.

"This would help keep victim-survivors from falling through the gaps."

A national register would increase transparency, accountability and information sharing across the legal sector.

It could include a database of family court orders, family violence orders and information about other risk factors including child protection issues.

A national log would improve the lives of victim-survivors of domestic and family violence says Women's Legal Services chair Elena Rosenman.

"Reforms that must be urgently implemented to ensure women can escape and recover from violence safely," she said.

However, Victoria is currently the only state or territory in Australia that has a family violence information sharing scheme

The joint statement comes after 23 crossbench parliamentarians told the country's attorneys-general they must act immediately to fill a funding gap to help women fleeing domestic violence.

The group of crossbenchers is urging the top federal and state legal officers to commit an additional $174 million to support the country's community legal services which are buckling under a heavy workload.

In 2022-23, legal services helped more than 420,000 clients and 52 per cent of those services were accessed by women, according to the ABS.

They say they are making the demands after the Albanese government's May budget committed only $41 million to the sector despite an independent review recommending a commitment of $215 million.

Independent Senator Lidia Thorpe, one of the signatories, said people are at risk of further harm.

"The government must act now," she said.

"Everyday they delay, more people are being denied justice and put in danger."

The Warren Mundy independent review of the National Legal Assistance Partnership, which provides for legal services for the vulnerable who can not afford their own lawyers, reported its findings earlier this year.

Dr Mundy provided 39 recommendations to the state and territories attorneys-general, but the government has yet to respond.