NSW LGBTQ+ domestic violence centre turns to sausage sizzles to meet funding gap

<span>Data from Bunnings reveals there has been a 15% rise in the number of non-profit groups and community raising funds through sausage sizzles.</span><span>Photograph: James Gourley/AAP</span>
Data from Bunnings reveals there has been a 15% rise in the number of non-profit groups and community raising funds through sausage sizzles.Photograph: James Gourley/AAP

The only New South Wales domestic violence centre that offers legal assistance to the LGBTQ+ community has been forced to raise funds through Bunnings sausage sizzles to keep their program afloat amid an uptick in demand for assistance.

Legal centres across Australia say they are struggling to meet increasing demand and and are seeing victim-survivors fall through the cracks because of a shortfall in funding. Some centres say they are wary of advertising their services because they don’t know if they will have to turn people away.

More community organisations and not-for-profit groups are raising funds through sausage sizzles, with more than 28,000 taking place in the financial year to date, data from Bunnings reveals. This represents a 15% uptick from the same time last year.

Katie Green, managing solicitor at the Inner City Legal Centre, says the centre has not received the top-up funds from the federal budget to properly fund its LGBTQ+ domestic violence safe room, which offers free legal advice to the community across NSW.

The service currently receives $100,000 annually from the state and commonwealth governments, which does not cover one full-time wage, Green says.

“Even before we had the federal budget announcement, we’ve been doing sausage sizzles to top up the money that we need, just to pay for that one lawyer in that one service,” Green said.

She said the closure of the service would leave gay men with nowhere to access free legal help for domestic violence. The service’s clients also include lesbians and people who are transgender or gender diverse, and they often need tailored legal assistance.

Green said a new client accesses the service each week, but without stable funding the centre may be forced to close the program.

“In LGBTQ relationships, I can’t say it enough, the dynamic is just so different,” she said. “So our understanding and our response have to be different.”

Related: ‘I couldn’t do it any more’: family lawyers quit amid burnout and pain of billing DV victims

In this year’s budget, the federal government announced $3.4bn to support women’s safety, with the centrepiece of its response being a payment of up to $5,000 for those fleeing violent relationships.

Community legal centres are normally funded through a patchwork of state, commonwealth and philanthropic funding. A review of the financial model is due to be released soon by the attorney general, Mark Dreyfus.

Before the budget, these legal centres had asked for $125m, but received $44.1m.

A spokesperson for the attorney general said the government “recognises the pressures Community Legal Centres are under and the importance of strengthening the legal assistance sector”.

“Legal assistance is essential to ensuring access to justice and equality before the law,” a spokesperson said.

Elsewhere, legal centres offering domestic violence assistance say they have been left to fend for themselves.

Christine Robinson, the chief executive of Wirringa Baiya Aboriginal Women’s Legal Centre, said the centre was considering a pause in advertising their services in case they were forced to turn women away.

Robinson said the centre’s funding will run out in 2025 and if not renewed it would lose two case workers and a solicitor and would have to decrease services.

“Despite the much-needed spotlight on domestic and family violence this year, there has been very little investment in the legal sector,” she said. “With women’s legal services and community legal centres being overlooked in their entirety.”

Gabrielle Morrissey, the chief executive of Women and Children First, said that centre was funded to help 208 women a year. Last year the service helped 836.

“[We] do about four times the work than we’re funded by the government for,” Morrissey said. “So we have to fundraise and ask for help from our community and donors and benefactors and caring individuals to take the lion’s share of that.”

Related: ‘We start the day with 60 people waiting’: the lawyers helping the ‘never-ending list’ of Australia’s DV victims

Other community legal centres are also facing critical funding shortfalls. The Welfare Rights Centre, which helps people adversely affected by Centrelink decisions in NSW, said it was already winding down its services because of a 40% drop in funding after the state and federal governments did not commit to maintaining current levels beyond July.

“We don’t meet demand already, we can never meet demand,” said Katherine Boyle, the Welfare Right Centre’s chief executive.