Legal peak rejects Brandis comments, urges PM response to open letter on legal help crisis

June 23, 2016 |

The Federation of Community Legal Centres has strongly rejected comments by Federal Attorney-General George Brandis at this week’s legal affairs election debate, and has called on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to respond urgently to an open letter on the crisis in community legal centre funding.

‘We reject the Attorney-General’s claims that legal affairs under the Federal Government have seen only “boutique controversies” and that funding for legal assistance has been “maintained in real terms”.

‘When the Federal Government denies free community legal help to 160,000 vulnerable people a year and that is set to dramatically worsen under a 30 per cent national funding cut, it’s not a boutique concern – it’s a crisis,’ said Serina McDuff, executive officer of the Federation of Community Legal Centres, today.

‘Unless funding is urgently addressed, it will become harder for women to get the legal help they need to protect themselves and their children from violence and rebuild their lives. Cuts will also reduce help with family law problems, and deny increasing numbers of vulnerable people a way out of crushing debt, unfair fines, consumer scams, workplace mistreatment, discrimination, elder abuse, eviction and homelessness.

‘These are serious legal problems that anyone could experience, and community legal centres should be fully funded to help everyone who really needs it,’ McDuff said.

She said the comments by the Attorney-General in the debate underlined the urgent need for a response by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to an open letter sent last week by the Federation with the support of 13 family violence, legal and community service peak organisations.

The letter describes a growing crisis in community legal centre funding fuelled by a Federal Budget that left in place more than $34 million in cuts amid a broader shortfall of $100 million over four years.

‘The Federal Government is using complex funding arrangements across different legal services to veil deep and damaging cuts that hurt vulnerable people and ordinary Australians,’ McDuff said.

She said the Federal Government had failed to demonstrate the adequacy of funding to meet legal need, and had ignored a 2014 Productivity Commission recommendation (21.4) to boost combined free legal assistance services by $200 million a year.

The Federation estimates that community legal centres nationally require Federal funding of around $61.6 million a year to help people who can’t afford a private lawyer or get legal aid.

Both Labor and the Greens have announced election commitments that would reverse the Federal cuts, if not entirely meet the Federal shortfall in funding for community legal centres.

The community is encouraged to support today’s national day of social media action using the #fundequaljustice hashtag.

For comment or to arrange an interview

Darren Lewin-Hill
Communications Manager
Federation of Community Legal Centres
0488 773 535