Community lawyers join call for urgently needed boost to all legal assistance services

May 16, 2016 |

Community legal centres are set to join tomorrow’s rally in support of increased funding for legal aid, and for broader legal assistance services including community legal centres, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (ATSILS), and Family Violence Prevention Legal Services (FVPLS).

‘All legal assistance services have faced cuts and chronic underfunding by the Federal Government, and we support increased investment across the board,’ said Katie Fraser, acting executive officer of the Federation of Community Legal Centres, today.

Last Thursday we learned from Attorney-General Brandis that a small amount of funding diverted from a broader family violence Budget allocation will see only an additional $10 million dollars a year for three years shared among legal assistance services.

‘That’s manifestly inadequate when community legal centres alone are facing more than $34 million in cuts left in the Budget, amid a total shortfall of $100 million over four years,’ Fraser said.

In a September 2014 report to the Federal Government, the Productivity Commissionrecommended that combined legal assistance services receive an immediate boost of $200 million a year. In its pre-Budget response to the report, the Federal Government ignored this central recommendation on funding (rec 21.4), and it was ignored in the Budget.

‘Community legal centre funding is in crisis, and that’s true of all legal assistance services across Australia, including legal aid. All free legal assistance services need to be sustainably funded – not cut – to meet clearly growing legal need,’ Fraser said.

Fraser said community legal centres help people who can’t afford a private lawyer and can’t get help from legal aid. In 2014–15, centres nationally were forced to turn away nearly 160,000 people – primarily due to a lack of resources.

‘The people the Federal Government is forcing us to turn away are women seeking help to get family violence intervention orders through the courts, people needing help with family law, workplace disputes, credit and debt, consumer issues, infringements, tenancy, homelessness, and discrimination.

‘There are serious human impacts for the Federal Government’s failure to invest in free legal assistance, and there’s compelling evidence that it should urgently do so. Too many people can’t get any free legal help for serious problems that anyone in the community could face, and that’s a disgrace,’ Fraser concluded.

In 2014–15, the Federal Government spent $728 million on legal advice and representation for itself, representing expenditure in excess of $3.5 billion over a five-year period. In the same period, it will spend only $1.6 billion for all community legal centres, all Legal Aid Commissions, all ATSILS and all FVPLS, falling short by at least $200 million a year on the Productivity Commission’s analysis.

The Federation and member community legal centres will join the Melbourne LegalAidMatters rally in the forecourt of the County Court of Victoria, 250 William Street, Melbourne at 9am, on Tuesday 17 May 2016.

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