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Access to justice gap hits Victorians, legal peak will tell Productivity Commission at Melbourne hearings

Tuesday 10 June 2014 – embargoed until 12.00am Wednesday 11 June 2014
The Federation of Community Legal Centres will encourage the Productivity Commission to quantify the true scale and cost of addressing unmet legal need in Victoria when the Commission continues public hearings on access to justice in Melbourne on Wednesday (11 June).
The hearings are being held in response to the Commission’s April draft report and will inform a final report the Federal Government says will guide policy on access to justice through free legal assistance in Australia.
“Nationally, some 500,000 people miss out on legal help every year, but the gap between those who qualify for legal aid and those who can afford a private lawyer is widening and needs to be rigorously measured – a vital task the Productivity Commission is well equipped to perform,” said Federation Executive Officer, Liana Buchanan, today.
“In Victoria, 51 community legal centres help to fill that gap, but recent Federal Budget cuts have worsened a funding shortfall, and it is critical the Productivity Commission understands the distinct, essential and efficient services offered by community legal centres.
“Community legal centres offer free legal help across a range of areas, with family violence just one urgent example where cuts are threatening to undermine claimed Federal and State commitments to tackle family violence, placing women and children at further risk,” Buchanan said.
Around a third of the 23,500 new cases opened annually in Victoria relate to family violence. In total, centres help more than 60,000 people every year with a range of legal problems related to family violence, family law, tenancy, credit and debt, consumer law, and social security. Federal Government cuts will hit 14 Victorian centres and around 60 centres nationally, with further centres potentially affected by additional Federal cuts in 2017–18.
“For a growing number of people, there’s just no other option than the free legal help delivered through independent community legal centres in their local area. If centres aren’t properly funded, located to cover every community, and adequately supported in their work, there’s a significant risk legal problems will escalate and become even more serious and expensive to resolve,” Buchanan said.
She said she welcomed, and at the hearing would acknowledge, positive aspects of the Commission’s draft report, including its recognition that law reform and policy advocacy are a core part of community legal centres’ work (pp. 624–5).
“Federal Attorney-General George Brandis has indicated this work should not be undertaken with Commonwealth funding, but the Commission has clearly recognised that the experience community legal centres gain through seeing thousands of clients every year makes them uniquely well placed to pursue effective law reform and advocate for better and fairer laws, policies and practices.
“The Attorney-General has said he will be guided by the Commission, and we trust he will be guided on the vital issue of law reform and policy advocacy,” Buchanan concluded.
Liana Buchanan will present at the morning session of the public hearing on Wednesday 11 June 2014 at the Productivity Commission, Level 12, 530 Collins Street, Melbourne.
Background information
Media contacts
Liana Buchanan
Executive Officer
Federation of Community Legal Centres
0407 189 221
Darren Lewin-Hill
Communications Manager
Federation of Community Legal Centres
0488 773 535

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