A state budget to help ALL Victorians thrive
In the wake of the bushfires of 2019-2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic, the social and economic landscape in Victoria has changed markedly.
The pandemic, in particular, has had a profound impact on our community – an impact that will be felt for many years to come. With deepening financial hardship as well as rises in mental health issues and family violence, supporting our community is as important as ever. In Victoria, the demand for support from community services, including legal help, has grown with rising inequality and disadvantage. And, as we enter a second year of uncertainty following the pandemic, the need for community legal sector support is forecast to grow.
We recognise that through the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System the Government has committed to implementing greater community support for those Victorians with mental health issues. We welcome the release of the final report this week and while we are still reviewing the detail, we are heartened by the proposed expansion of the specialist Assessment and Referral Court, the recognition of the importance of legal representation and the focus on youth mental health. We are particularly pleased to see the report’s recommendation that up to 60 community-based adult mental health services be established across the state.
This is a welcome initiative, and as we’ve highlighted in our 2021 Budget Submission, is a critical opportunity to ensure an integrated response including community legal assistance to enable people to recover and thrive.
The law affects every part of people’s lives and Community Legal Centres (CLCs) are fundamental in supporting our community in pressing areas of need. This includes assisting people who are facing eviction and homelessness, family breakdown, crippling debts and fines, discrimination, exploitation at work and unfair dismissal. CLCs, alongside specialist family violence services, also play a fundamental role supporting women and children experiencing family violence and preventing perpetrators from causing further harm.
Unaddressed legal issues can escalate and ultimately carry heavy consequences, including significant financial strain or bankruptcy, physical ill-health, psychological distress and homelessness. The risks posed by unresolved legal need are especially severe for the many CLC clients who already experience some form of disadvantage, as existing vulnerabilities are compounded by risks arising from legal problems.
That’s why it’s so important that Victoria’s 2021 State Budget ensure equal access to justice for all Victorians.
Budgets are about the health and wellbeing of our community and help us to build the kind of society we want to live in.
The State Government has implemented many positive reforms over the past 12 months to assist those in our community who are most vulnerable to injustice. However, if we are to ensure no Victorians are left behind as the state recovers from the devastation of the bushfires and COVID-19, the Government must fund the community legal sector to meet existing needs and address the continued rise in demand.
It is vital that people have access to community legal help.
We urge the Victorian Government to provide CLC’s with the long-term funding they need to meet demand and ensure all members of the community have equal access to justice.
Our Budget recommendations fall into the following three areas:
- Access for justice for those who need it most
- Community legal help for victim-survivors of family violence
- Support for mental wellness.
We encourage you to read this proposal, and help us continue to push for a fairer Victoria in which all Victorians thrive.