Concern for clients as domestic violence court services put out for tender

The services which help women secure legal protection against their violent partners are over-worked and could be further diminished if a restructuring process goes ahead, the state's peak domestic violence body has warned.

Domestic Violence NSW chief executive Moo Baulch said the state government's decision to proceed with a three-week tender process for the provision of women's court support services has caused considerable angst in the sector.

Moo Baulch, chief executive of Domestic Violence NSW.

Photo: Peter Rae

"The major concern is disruption to clients," Ms Baulch said.

"It's a very short timeframe for services to tender for this, and a short time for new services coming in to hire staff, train staff and receive a handover of clients and be up and running."

The services had until Sunday to apply to provide the Women's Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service (WDVCAS), after the NSW government opened a competitive tender process for the new contracts on August 20. The new services are expected to be operational from December 1.

There are currently 29 WDVCAS, which are run by a range of different NGOs with funding from Legal Aid, and operate across 117 NSW courts.

The services help women secure legal protection through Apprehended Domestic Violence Orders and provide referrals to other services.

Under the restructure, a number of services in regional areas will be merged to create 26 services in total.

The government was unable to guarantee there would be no loss of staff when questioned on the issue in during a recent budget estimates.

“Neither [Legal Aid] or us will know at this point what the actual impact on the number of staff will be until the tender process is complete,” Deidre Mulkerin, a Deputy Secretary with the Department of Family and Community Services, told the hearing.

In response to the Herald’s questions, Legal Aid NSW chief executive Brendan Thomas said there would be “no diminution of services” and the services were being retendered because the existing contracts had expired.

“There will be no change to the service tendered for and it will remain the same as it is currently today.

“The service will continue to focus on providing support to female victims of domestic and family violence.”

However, one major provider - the Redfern Legal Centre - has bowed out of the process, announcing this week that after 30 years of providing a court service for women in Sydney it would not be tendering. In a statement explaining its decision, the centre cited "significant changes made to the new service model and the significant increase in demand for the service”.

The centre said it had supported over 1500 women over a six-month period this year.

Ms Baulch said she had spoken with 15 services within the past week who were concerned about the handover of vulnerable clients, the impact on staff and the loss of specialisation in the sector.

“The timeframe means really small organisations will be pitted against larger organisations, which are better equipped to prepare a tender within three weeks,” Ms Baulch said.

“It means you lose the expertise of staff on the ground who, in some cases, have been doing this for years and years.”

Natalie Lang, branch secretary of the Australian Services Union, said 300 women were employed across the court services and accused the government of having “no workforce plan whatsoever”.

“The success of this service is because of the skills of those women and the government needs to ensure that’s not lost through this transition process.”

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