Mining slump hits law centre load
A dramatic change in the nature of financial issues faced by Pilbara residents with the waning of the mining boom is having flow-on effects to other social issues, including increasing domestic violence, according to the regional community legal centre chief executive.
Pilbara Community Legal Service chief executive Nanette Williams said her organisation’s financial counselling casework had undergone a “marked change” and become much more complex over the past two financial years, particularly in 2015-16, with the inability to pay the mortgage and business bankruptcies among the main problems.
“Most of (the situations) are mortgage stress, bankruptcy, multiple debts,” she said. “And basically not sufficient money to run the household, when you look at mortgage payments or rent payments, utilities, food, fuel.
“The casework is so different . . . it’s prolonged.
“It takes the financial counsellor a lot more time to assist people now. Instead of being able to come in and have the situation be fixed in that one session, it can take months, sometimes years, to resolve the issue.”
Mrs Williams said not only was the more complex financial stress an issue in itself, but among the centre’s clients it was having noticeable flow-on effects to mental health conditions, relationship breakdowns, and domestic violence.
PCLS recorded a doubling in its numbers of domestic violence cases in the past financial year, up from around 600 in 2014-15 to more than 1200 in 2015-16. Pilbara District Police and Mission Australia also reported increases in domestic violence reports in the same timeframe.
Mrs Williams said in her opinion, the severe nature of financial stress being seen was “one of the predominant contributors” to the rising domestic violence rate.
“Being the provider, providing for the family, there’s an element of shame, there’s an element of disappointment (in financial problems),” she said.
“To a large extent some people deal with anxiety or stress with alcohol abuse, drug abuse, and that compounds the issue even more.”
Financial Counsellors’ Association of WA president Joanna Carrington agreed financial situations had become more complex since the mining boom waned, as for many people “multiple commitments” stacked up to become overwhelming.
She said with the uncertain employment market, especially for fly-in, fly-out workers, falling into financial hardship and its social effects were all too real possibilities. “Misfortune can happen to anyone, and domestic violence,” she said.