Aboriginal women and children’s rights and needs are silenced in this year’s Federal Budget

In a suite of family violence reforms announced at last night’s Federal Budget, the rights to safety and culturally safe legal support for Aboriginal women and children were invisible. It is utterly shameful. This is a continuance of colonial violence against Aboriginal women, children and families.

Our lives matter, we will not stop fighting for our future.

VALS and the Aboriginal women, children and families we support have yet again been betrayed by the Albanese government. After a referendum that has detrimentally impacted Aboriginal Communities and seen a rise in racism in our communities, institutions and so-called places of safety coupled with increasing violence against women, it bewilders the mind that the Albanese government has not provided vital resources to ensure the voices of Aboriginal Communities can be protected and that they can access legal help where and when they need it.  

VALS has been calling for an immediate injection of $50m through the National Legal Assistance Partnership (NLAP) to ensure we can provide culturally safe legal services to meet community needs. The Albanese government’s commitment of $44.1m to Community Legals Services, with $15.4m going to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (ATSILS), less than 1/15th of which will go to Victoria. This will have little meaningful impact; it will do nothing to expand our service delivery nor restore critical services that have been cut partially or in full.

Instead, the Federal government invested more than double our funding ask into the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission’s (ACIC) National Criminal Intelligence System alongside improving information-sharing nationally. In March this year, ACIC reported a $10.2m surplus and $298.4m in total revenue in their most recent annual report. It is incomprehensible as to why identified Aboriginal community need was not respected when our services safe lives.

ATSILS must be fully funded to provide the services that our communities expect and deserve. This is in line with the Federal Government’s commitments under Closing the Gap and our right to self-determination.

The national crisis of violence against women requires investment in specialist responses including Aboriginal-led solutions. Aboriginal women are 45 times more likely to experience family violence than non-Indigenous women and at least 25 times more likely to killed or injured by a former or intimate partner. Family violence is not an ‘Aboriginal’ problem, the majority of clients that services such as Djirra supports are partnered with non-Indigenous men.

Services like VALS’ Balit Ngulu, a specialist youth program dedicated to providing legal assistance and representations to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people, many of whom have also been impacted by family violence, and Baggarrook, an intensive support program for Aboriginal women transitioning from custody that are at high risk of homelessness and family violence as a direct response to the unique needs of our community.  Aboriginal services must be funded to provide the programs our community wants and needs. Sustainable and substantial funding that will allow Aboriginal organisations to self-determine our services will go a long way to achieving positive outcomes for our communities.

Our people, including our women and children, thrive when we are resourced to be able to self-determine our own futures. We had hoped that the collective outrage we are seeing, when every four days, a woman is murdered by an intimate or former partner would translate to a comprehensive suite of reforms that would benefit all women and children living in Australia, not dictated by the colour of their skin or their cultural background. All women and children deserve to be safe, and live a life free from violence.  

We do not need another inquiry into family violence. We have the solutions; governments across all jurisdictions just need to listen. Family Violence providers and Community Legal Services have been chronically underfunded. The current needs-based calculation is reductive, and fails to reflect the high demand for legal assistance in Victoria. Aboriginal communities must have access legal help when they need it, where they are, this is in line with our rights as articulated in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

Too often we see that Aboriginal women are faced with an impossible situation of staying in a violent home, or leaving without secure, affordable and appropriate housing that meets the needs of her children. This risks returning to the violent relationship, or entering homelessness as well as the risk of child protection becoming involved. VALS’ Civil and Human Rights Practice supports clients with including tenancy, victims of crime compensation, discrimination, employment, coronial matters, mental health tribunal, working with children check matters, the Yoorrook Justice Commission, disaster relief, infringements and consumer, credit, and debt. All of these issues can be amplified when also experiencing family violence and require a trauma-informed, coordinated, holistic response. Adequate, sustainable funding of specialist family violence and legal assistance services is fundamental and the Federal Government holds significant responsibility for this.

  • We call on the Federal Government to proactively commit to accepting all recommendations from the inquiry into Missing and Murdered First Nations women and children.
  • We call on the Federal Government to immediately release the NLAP Review, and accept all recommendations in full.
  • We call on the Federal Government to commit to adequately implementing all relevant recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.
  • We call on the Federal Government to establish a Human Rights Act and commit to implementing the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples domestically.
  • We call on the Federal Government to properly fund Aboriginal Legal Services to be able to provide advocacy services in a way that is responsive to community needs and enables self-determination so that we can have a stronger voice to make decisions on issues that affect us.
  • We call on the Federal Government to amend the current needs-based calculation method to reflect the high demand for legal assistance across all regions of Victoria.
  • We call on the Federal Govt to extend pay parity for our staff for future funding beyond this financial year, so that we can maintain quality, experienced lawyers and workforce security.

The Federal Government has an obligation to uphold their commitments under the National Agreement on Closing the Gap, the Uluru Statement of the Heart, and the National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children.

There must be sustainable, equitable, flexible and long-term funding and resourcing for Aboriginal legal services that is appropriately indexed, so we can ensure all Aboriginal people in Victoria have access to the legal help they need.

Quotes Attributable to Nerita Waight, CEO of the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service:

“Aboriginal women and children deserve to be safe, and our services are a critical part of a holistic, Aboriginal-led response to the ongoing crisis of family violence. Yet the Albanese government has decided to ignore the invaluable work of Aboriginal Community-Controlled Organisations and Aboriginal Legal Services such as VALS in providing Aboriginal-led solutions.”

“If we cannot adequately provide trauma-informed and holistic preventative support and interventions, alongside providing legal services and representation to those in need, we cannot address the underlying causes of family violence.”

“Last night’s budget announcement is a drop in the ocean for what ATSILS need to meet community needs and have meaningful impact. It is critical that we are funded to be able to continue providing the high-quality, holistic supports that our communities need.”

“The Federal Government’s lack of transparency around the future of our funding, including their decision to not publish the final report of the NLAP review until after the Federal Budget, is abhorrent. In a sector where vicarious trauma is high and our workers are vulnerable to burnout, we need stability and security to ensure that we can continue supporting our people to the best of our ability.”

“With support from allies in the sector, VALS has been able to lead the charge on key reforms needed to create a safter Victoria for Aboriginal people and all Victorians. Informed by our clients and communities, VALS has advocated and achieved remarkable outcomes such as repealing public drunkenness laws and replacing it with a health-based response, or the amendments to Bail laws that mean people will be safer and less likely to enter custody. VALS is a staunch advocate and we must be funded in a way that will allow us to continue upholding the rights of our communities.”

About VALS’ and our Balit Ngulu and Baggarrook Programs

The Victorian Aboriginal Legal Services (VALS) is a holistic, high quality, and trauma informed legal service. Our legal practice serves Aboriginal people of all ages and genders in the areas of criminal, family and civil law. We also have our dedicated youth justice service, Balit Ngulu and our Wirraway Police and Prison Accountability Practice.Our 24-hour criminal law service is backed up by the strong community-based role of our Client Service Officers (CSOs). CSOs are the first point of contact when an Aboriginal person is taken into custody, through to the finalisation of legal proceedings. VALS also provides Community Justice Programs which include support programs around family violence, community legal education, Baggarrook, our women’s transitional housing support program and Aboriginal Community Justice Reports. We support community voices through our policy and advocacy work.

Balit Ngulu, which means ‘Strong Voice’ in Woiwurrung, the traditional language of the Wurundjeri people, has assisted over 70 young Aboriginal people who have come into contact with the criminal legal system since its re-establishment in 2021. Balit Ngulu has achieved great results for our clients and received praise in several courts for the extensive support that the service provides. In an evaluation of Balit Ngulu, several justice sector stakeholders said that Balit Ngulu ensured Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children were better prepared for court, had better follow up, and received high quality, holistic support. When asked about their experience, a client said “it [the court proceedings] would have been really stressful, really hard to cope, I don’t think I could have done it without them.” 

In 2021 Balit Ngulu provided services to young people in Melbourne and Shepparton only, but as of May 2024 we are providing services to young people across various metropolitan regions and the Hume region. Demand for Balit Ngulu is high across the remainder of Victoria, and our ability to assist young people outside of the current service delivery area is limited due to funding constraints. The demand for Balit Ngulu’s service highlights the urgent need for expansion. Balit Ngulu should be expanded so that it can support more of our children in more communities across Victoria.

Baggarrook is an intensive support program for Aboriginal women transitioning from custody that are at high risk of homelessness that is part of our Community Justice Programs. VALS delivers this program in partnership with Aboriginal Housing Victoria, Department of Families, Fairness and Housing and Corrections Victoria. The Baggarrook program is open to all women and welcomes trans and gender diverse, non-binary, sistergirls, brotherboys, intersex and two spirit queer folk who identify as women.

In 2023 Baggarrook assisted seven women to transition from prison into the community. Participants of the Baggarrook program typically experience intersecting barriers to accessing safe and stable housing upon release from prison, and the Baggarrook program is essential in helping Aboriginal women get back on their feet while they navigate reintegration into the community after custody. Demand for the Baggarrook program far outweighs its capacity as there are only six places available and a far higher number of women applying to the program. Baggarrook clients have told VALS that the support they receive through the program is invaluable. 


273 High St, Preston VIC 3072


1800 064 865

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