NSW Funding to “Fill Void” for Community Legal Centres
Wednesday, 5th April 2017 at 1:01 pm
A move by the NSW government to inject more than $6 million over two years in additional funding for community legal centres (CLCs) has been described as “stepping in to fill the void” created by a pending reduction in funding by the federal government of 23 per cent in NSW.
Community Legal Centres NSW (CLCNSW) chair Dr Linda Tucker welcomed the announcement but said that increased Commonwealth funding for CLCs was still as important as ever.
“This NSW government funding will put an end to planned staff cuts, service reductions and outreach closures at community legal centres across NSW, ensuring that hundreds of people and communities across NSW won’t lose access to the legal assistance they need,” Tucker said.
“The NSW government has effectively increased its contribution to our sector by 50 per cent, the largest annual increase from the state government for two decades. We thank the NSW attorney general for recognising the essential work done by community legal centres and stepping in to fill this gap.
“In 2014 the Productivity Commission recommended an immediate injection of $200 million into the legal assistance sector nationwide, simply to meet existing demand for services. Instead, the Commonwealth government has refused to extend funding to the sector, amounting to a 30 per cent cut nationwide.”
Tucker said community legal centres made a little money go a long way.
“From tenancy and debt help, to child protection and domestic violence, our early intervention work saves people from further emotional and physical harm, preventing knock-on effects across the wider justice and health systems,” Tucker said.
“This funding announcement will be welcomed across the NSW legal community. Now we need the federal government to chip in their fair share, so CLCs can meet existing demand and ensure that everyone has access to justice.”
The CEO of the NSW Council of Social Service, Tracy Howe, said: “Many CLCs across the state faced staff cuts and service reductions following a federal government decision not to renew its grants program which ends on 30 June.
“We’re so pleased the NSW government has stepped up to the plate.”
NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman said in announcing the funding: “CLCs do incredible work helping disadvantaged people with legal problems and the NSW government’s action will secure their services for the future following the non-renewal of a federal funding program.
“This is a major win for vulnerable and disadvantaged people across the state who rely on CLC lawyers for free advice on critical issues in both the civil and criminal sphere, ranging from domestic violence and victims’ support to debts and tenancy disputes.
“The NSW government is stepping in to secure the immediate future of CLCs, while continuing to work towards a sustainable long-term solution,” he said.
The CLCs particularly impacted by the new funding are: Women’s Legal Service NSW, Kingsford Legal Centre, Redfern Legal Centre, Immigration Advice & Rights Centre (IARC), Western Sydney CLC, Environmental Defender’s Office NSW (EDO NSW), Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), Illawarra Legal Centre, Elizabeth Evatt CLC in Katoomba, and Northern Rivers CLC.
Last week the Senate passed a historic motion led by the crossbenches and Labor calling for immediate action on the funding crisis affecting Australia’s legal assistance sector and the federal courts.
The motion, passed on Wednesday, was co-sponsored by Senator Kakoschke-Moore (NXT), Senator Jackie Lambie, Senator Derryn Hinch, Senator Pauline Hanson, and Senator Nick McKim (Greens) and supported by Labor.
It called on the government to:
- immediately reverse the cuts to CLCs and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services that take effect from 1 July
- commit to adequate and sustainable longer-term funding contributions to the legal assistance sector
- release the 2014 KPMG report on the federal courts
- review resourcing for the federal courts and identify what resources are required to address unacceptable delays in hearings and determinations.