Women's groups stunned

by Chris Griffith
Published 20 February 1996 in The Courier-Mail


my face


Women's groups yesterday expressed outrage at a unilateral decision by government bureaucrats to cancel a landmark workshop examining women's access to justice, because of the change in government.

Despite months of planning, bureaucrats within the Queensland Department of Justice and Attorney-General yesterday faxed notices cancelling the long-awaited "Legal Support Services for Women Workshop" this Friday without consulting either outgoing Attorney-General, Matt Foley, or his likely successor, Denver Beanland.

It was one of those rare days in Queensland political life when departments took on a life of their own, without a minister at the helm.

Workshop participants were to have included the Women's Legal Service, the Legal Aid Office, the Youth Advocacy Centre, the Migrant Women's Emergency Support Service, the Self-Health for Queensland Workers in the Sex Industry (SQWISI), and representatives of women in regional and rural Queensland.

One participant said departmental officers had second guessed that the new coalition government would not have approved the workshop. They claimed some bureaucrats had believed the event would have unrealistically built up community expectations.

The workshop had been jointly sponsored by the department, the Labor Government's Women's Policy Unit, and the Women's Advisory Council.

But incoming Attorney-General Denver Beanland said the new government had nothing to do with the cancellation.

Mr Beanland said he was "a bit stunned" that senior bureaucrats would cancel an event designed to inform the government about women's services. "If the government doesn't know about the availability of women's support services, it should know."

He said he would review the decision when he became Attorney-General.

A spokesperson for the Women's Legal Service, domestic violence worker Pam Godsell, said it was the first time a Queensland Government had seriously wanted to sit down with all relevant community organisations and identify the adequacy of legal and other support services for women.

"The whole service is disappointed - I can't see a reason for it," she said.

A workshop delegate representing rural and isolated women from central Queensland, Ms Lynda Pollock, said it appeared the bureaucrats were looking after their own jobs and not considering the needs of the people they served.

The program director for SQWISI, Ms Joanne Blair, said she was "amazed" at the decision.

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice and Attorney-General, who asked not to be named, said it was understood the coalition's legal aid policy was to review the funding of the Legal Aid Office and its services.

The spokesperson said the workshop was cancelled so the department could gauge "how the incoming government wished the review to be conducted".

"It would be a waste of participants' time and departmental funds if the workshop and any plan for the review were inconsistent. If there is no such inconsistency, the workshop will be rescheduled without any change."