Government Reversal on Cuts to Community Legal Centres
24 April 2017 at 9:54 am
The federal government is to reverse its controversial funding cuts to Community Legal Centres (CLCs) in the upcoming budget – a move the community legal sector has described as a “huge relief”.
Attorney General George Brandis told the ABC on Monday the government would restore $55.7 million to the sector over three years, including $16.7 million for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services.
From 1 July funding for CLCs was set to drop by $30.1 million with legal services, peak not-for-profit organisations and the federal opposition claiming the cuts would have a devastating effect on services and jobs.
Brandis told the ABC’s AM program it was “an important announcement for the sector”.
“[They] have been waiting and hoping that the government would see their point of view and we have done that and delivered for them,” Brandis said.
The National Partnership Agreement currently provides around $42 million to the community legal sector each year.
In March, Law Council of Australia president Fiona McLeod said that although the crisis in legal assistance funding had been steadily worsening over two decades, drastic cuts to take effect from 1 July this year would be particularly disastrous.
“Last year CLCs were forced to turn away 160,000 people seeking legal assistance. These cuts will lead to 36,000 fewer clients assisted and 46,000 fewer advices provided,” McLeod said.
On the announcement of the reversal to the cuts she said it was “a tremendous victory for access to justice in Australia”.
“Those who work in the legal assistance sector are the unsung heroes of our community, working long hours in extremely challenging conditions to achieve justice for their clients,” she said.
“This announcement will be a great relief for those dedicated lawyers and their clients. It heads off an impending disaster, as many community legal centres, particularly in regional areas, were set to close.”
National Association of Community Legal Centres CEO Nassim Arrage told Pro Bono News the full reversal of the CLC cuts was “fantastic”.
“It is great news that so many people in the sector won’t be losing their jobs in the next few months,” Arrage said.
“In the ideal world there would be sufficient funding for the community legal centres and we wouldn’t have to fight to continually justify our funding but we welcome the announcement… it is testimony to our work and the work of many people in the community.
“The Law Council has stood with us, law societies around the country have stood with us, pro bono law firms have stood with us and charities, other service providers and individuals who receive our services have all spoken out and it is a testimony to the belief in our services and the importance of the services we provide that we have achieved this result.”
Shadow attorney general Mark Dreyfus said the reversal in cuts to CLCs and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services was a “humiliating backdown” for Brandis and a victory for campaigners around Australia.
“Labor has been protesting these cuts for years, arguing vulnerable Australians in need of free legal services – including domestic violence victims – would suffer,” Dreyfus said.
“The devastating cuts would have seen many centres offering free legal help close their doors and clients in need turned away.
“Until today, George Brandis pretended these cuts did not exist and there was instead a net boost to funding. It seems unlikely it is Senator Brandis has executed this backflip without considerable pressure from his colleagues, who must now be as sick of his ineptness as Labor is.”
Earlier this month the NSW government announced $6 million in funding over two years for CLCs in a move described by the legal sector as “stepping in to fill the void”.