Government “Disingenuous” over Community Legal Funding
29 April 2016 at 4:42 pm
The Federation of Community Legal Centres (Victoria) has described the federal government’s claim of a new five-year funding arrangement as “disingenuous” and the sector still faces severe funding cuts.
Community legal centres said they were facing a 30 per cent cut to funding from July next year, and similar cuts over the following two years, under the National Partnership Agreement for Legal Assistance Services (NPA).
On Friday, the federal government said it had put in place a $1.6 billion five-year funding program for Australia’s legal aid commissions and community legal centres.
The pre budget announcement was made by Attorney General Senator George Brandis who said it was part of the government’s response to the Productivity Commission’s Report into Access to Justice Arrangements.
A spokesperson for the Federation of Community Legal Centres (Victoria), Darren Lewin-Hill described the Brandis response as “disingenuous”.
“The response to the Productivity Commission contains no new money – the minister merely repeats a statement of existing funding that represents a 30 per cent national cut to community legal centres from July 2017,” Lewin-Hill said.
“The response is silent on recommendation 21.4, in which the Productivity Commission recommended an immediate annual boost of $200 million to combined legal assistance services, of which we are seeking $14.4 million a year from the federal government on top of the reversal of planned cuts.
“Our funding will drop from $42.2 million to $30.1 million in July 2017.”
In March, lawyers from community legal centres across Australia descended on Canberra to lobby MPs about the crisis in legal assistance for disadvantaged people and to launch a new funding campaign for the centres.
The lawyers said hundreds of thousands of people were missing out on the legal help they need.
The national funding campaign, Community Law Australia – Fund Equal Justice, was led by the National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC).
“In 2014 to 2015, over 160,000 of Australia’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable people had to be turned away by community legal centres, largely due to a lack of resources,” NACLC chairperson and Community Law Australia spokesperson Rosslyn Monro said at the time.
“Unresolved legal problems generate a range of flow-on effects, including significant costs to the government and broader community. Access to legal help can prevent or reduce the escalation of legal problems and reduce costs to the justice system and in other areas such as health and housing.”
Community legal centres (CLCs) are Not for Profit community-based legal services that provide free legal help and related services.
“Community Legal Centres assist more than 215,000 people with free legal advice every year nationally but sadly, we are turning away more than 160,000 people on top of that due to a lack of resources,” Monro said.
“Further cuts will have a devastating impact on vulnerable and disadvantaged people who so desperately need legal help.
“The Productivity Commission’s 2014 Access to Justice Arrangement Inquiry Report made clear that an investment in legal assistance services, including CLCs, reduces costs to Government as well as community and other systems and services in the long term, including in areas such as health, housing and social security.
“Investment in CLCs not only makes sense in terms of ensuring access to justice, but also makes economic sense. Given what the Productivity Commission has said, investment in CLCs is compatible with being fiscally responsible.”