Translating services in limbo for domestic violence victims

By Zoya Patel | 24 Nov 15

Over the past 12 months, the issue of domestic violence has received increased attention in Australia. With Rosie Batty, a staunch advocate for ending violence against women, named our 2015 Australian of the Year, as well as the shocking number of deaths that have occurred this year as a result of violence against women (77, according to Destroy The Joint’s Counting Dead Women researchers), Australians seem more aware of the issue than ever before.

But even as our Prime Minister announces a $100 million funding package to combat domestic violence, including measures such as specialist domestic violence police units and expanding the 1800 RESPECT hotline, other vital services for victims of domestic violence are being pared down. In the ACT, gradual changes to the National Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) are particularly concerning.

TIS is a federally-funded service providing frontline workers in a number of service areas and agencies with access to qualified translators and interpreters to assist them when working with clients from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds (CALD).

CALD women are particularly vulnerable to domestic violence so access to translating services is crucial. But in Canberra TIS funding is in limbo, with confusion as to where the responsibility for funding should lie.

To qualify for TIS, not-for-profit organisations must not receive any government funding for their service. This means that shelters or frontline service organisations for domestic violence victims are not eligible for free translators and interpreters if they receive government funding. This has always been the case, although the conditions were not always enforced.

Mirjana Wilson, Executive Director of the ACT Domestic Violence Crisis Service (DVCS), says that despite being entirely funded by the ACT government, DVCS has never paid for TIS services to date; the federal Department of Social Services (DSS) has paid DVCS’s invoices from TIS for well over a decade.

But, in recent years, Wilson has been notified that this might be about to change.

“TIS has been writing to us and saying that DSS, or the federal government, is looking at shifting the responsibility and payment of those services to the local government, who fund the services,” Wilson explains.

“As DVCS is an ACT government-funded service, the belief is that the ACT government should build into our funding contract money to cover that service or pay that bill, instead of the federal government.”

In some other states, the local governments do pay for the cost of TIS for their domestic violence support agencies. However, for DVCS, no commitment has been made by the ACT government, and their access to TIS remains in limbo. DSS is currently still paying for TIS in ACT, and the ACT government has not said that it won’t cover the funding shortfall should it occur. The continued uncertainty is an unnecessary burden on services, however.

“From what I understand, the ACT government is saying: well no, you guys have done it always, you should continue to do it always, and the Feds are saying, no, it’s an ACT government-funded service, we shouldn’t do it,” Wilson says.

Without any certainty around the future of this funding, DVCS finds itself vulnerable to possibly having to find another $22,000 in funding to cover the cost of TIS itself.

In the 2014-15 financial year, DVCS logged 395 calls using TIS, which is nearly double that of previous years. That this service is vital to ensure the safety of women from CALD backgrounds is difficult to dispute.

“I think the thing that frustrates me in all this, is that being able to seek support, or tell your story in a language that you can speak and be understood in, is a fundamental human right,” Wilson says.

“And you can’t have people not being able to access services or be understood because we’re quibbling over who’s going to pay the TIS bill.”

DVCS is determined not to deny clients access to the service, regardless of what happens with funding – if they need to fundraise, or cut funds from elsewhere, Wilson says that that’s what they’ll do.

But given the spotlight on domestic violence currently, and the Turnbull Government’s supposed support for meaningfully addressing the issue, it is disappointing to see a necessary service like TIS being held up in funding disputes.

Feature image: Javi/Flickr

This column has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.