No budget cuts to community legal sector, but without additional funding huge legal need will remain unmet

May 08, 2024 |

Victorian Community Legal Centres are disappointed that yesterday's budget announcement did not include a much-needed injection of additional funding to the Victorian community legal sector.  

However, we were pleased to see that investment in 22 health justice partnerships and integrated services programs has been renewed for four years. With over 40 evaluations providing evidence of the effectiveness of Victoria’s integrated community legal service programs, this is a sound investment to support Victorians where they are at.  

It is rare to receive a four-year funding contract in the community legal sector, and the stable funding will enable Community Legal Centres to plan ahead, provide certainty of services for clients, and offer employment certainty for staff. Community Legal Centres are currently experiencing workforce shortages impacting the communities they serve, due, in part, to a lack of guaranteed funding. 

Following the government’s Housing Statement, we were pleased that seven Community Legal Centres will receive funding to provide legal advice and counselling for private renters facing rental stress. 

Astonishingly, in a budget that heralded a $269 million investment in family violence services, there was no additional investment to expand community legal family violence services. Community Legal Centres are at the heart of family violence prevention and response, with 72 per cent of Victorian Community Legal Centres providing services for victim survivors of family violence, including five specialist family violence legal service providers. Community Legal Centres work to ensure that all the needs of victim survivors are met, from assistance in navigating court and obtaining a family violence intervention order, to accessing financial counselling, assistance in determining safe parenting arrangements, applying for a visa, or finding secure housing. 

Although there was little direct additional funding to our sector, we welcomed the government’s commitment to a range of initiatives addressing issues relevant to the people we work with, including homelessness, mental health problems and family violence.  

Louisa Gibbs, CEO at the Federation of Community Legal Centres said: 

"There is very little in yesterday’s budget for the Victorian community legal sector to get excited about, but we acknowledge that in a tight fiscal environment, existing programs of Community Legal Centres will continue to be funded.  

“At a time when there is a spotlight on women’s safety, it is a shame that the Victorian Government did not increase the ability of Community Legal Centres to provide more services for women that have, time and time again, demonstrated life changing outcomes for victim survivors.  

“We urge the Victorian Government to look for opportunities to integrate community legal responses across the board to support Victorians to navigate every day legal issues. Funding to integrate community lawyers in the Orange Door Network, and places such as the Mental Health and Wellbeing Local Services have the potential to dramatically improve outcomes for people accessing these services. We hope that the government will consider these benefits more closely in the future. 

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