Media Release: Community Lawyers gather in face of funding cuts

Representatives from Community Legal Centres (CLCs) in every state and territory gathered in Sydney yesterday and today for crisis talks in the face of the looming 30% cut to Commonwealth funding for CLCs from 1 July 2017.

As part of the talks the National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC) with State and Territory CLC Associations convened an action in Belmore Park yesterday to call for the reversal of the funding cuts.

Hundreds of local community lawyers posed with gags over their mouths to symbolise the silencing effect funding cuts will have on centres and their clients, and many were dressed as “Lady Justice”.

“Yesterday our Advisory Council stood alongside local CLC representatives and the community to call on the Government to reverse the 30% funding cut,” said NACLC CEO Nassim Arrage.

“These cuts will have a devastating impact on people across Australia. We already turn away over 160,000 people every year and these cuts will mean even more people will miss out on the legal help they need.

“The community support at the event yesterday builds on strong support shown by the Senate with two motions this week as well as support from the Law Council and Law Societies, Law Deans, pro bono firms, churches and other community organisations,” said Mr Arrage.

“This support reflects the vital importance of the work of CLCs in communities across Australia and the devastating impact cuts will have.

“The upcoming Federal Budget represents the last formal opportunity for the Federal Government to reverse the cuts and invest in the sector before 1 July. The time for the Federal Government to act is now,” Mr Arrage said.

Photo credit to Mark Riboldi (5 photos): https://www.dropbox.com/sh/1gg4tqzbdhter6q/AABec6UtyXJtvwEx4Tc0DVBua?dl=0

For more information or to arrange an interview please contact:

Nassim Arrage: 0408 092 256
Amanda Alford: 0421 028 645

Access to Justice Election Scorecard

Image of Election Scorecard

The Access to Justice Election Scorecard highlights where the major political parties in Australia stand on funding Community Legal Centres and other legal assistance services.   

The results show the Greens are the best performing party when it comes to prioritising funding for Australia’s Community Legal Centres, followed by the ALP and then the Coalition.

Key points:

The Coalition and ALP have not committed to the broad reversal of Commonwealth funding cuts for community legal centres (CLCs) under the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance, amounting to $34.83M over the period 2017/18 to 2019/20. However, the ALP’s funding commitment for family-violence related work amounts to more than the cuts. The Greens have committed to a full reversal of the funding cuts.

The Coalition and ALP have not committed to implementing the Productivity Commission recommendation to invest an additional $120M per year in legal assistance, including a minimum of $14.4M to CLCs. The Greens have committed to funding full implementation of the recommendation. 

The Coalition and ALP have promised CLCs a joint share of $30M family-violence related funding over 3 years. In addition, the ALP has promised $39.3M in family-violence related funding over 3 years, and $10.8M in funding for Environmental Defenders Offices over 4 years. The Greens have also have pledged $14.5M for Environmental Defenders Offices over 4 years and $1.67M to the National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC) over 4 years.

The ALP and Greens are committed to removing restrictions on the use of Commonwealth funds for policy, advocacy and law reform. No commitment has been made by the Coalition.

The Coalition, ALP and Greens have committed to providing varying levels of funding for other legal assistance services including Family Violence Prevention Legal Services, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services and Legal Aid Commissions.

Media Release: Community Lawyers vital in assisting people experiencing elder abuse

The National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC) today acknowledged the importance of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day in raising awareness of the abuses – physical, social, financial, psychological or sexual, which older people may experience.

Community Legal Centres (CLCs) provide free legal advice to all Australians including assisting older people who are experiencing all forms of elder abuse.

Seniors Rights Victoria is a specialist CLC that helps prevent elder abuse and safeguard the rights, dignity and independence of older people. “Our clients include older people facing financial ruin and homelessness resulting from the abuse of power of attorney by family members, older people hit by drug-affected family members and women abused by their husbands all their lives now being abused by their children,” said Jenny Blakey, Manager of Seniors Rights Victoria.

“The need for CLC’s like Seniors Rights Victoria to address elder abuse in our community is great – the problem is only going to increase as our population ages,” she said.

Bill Mitchell, Principal Solicitor at Townsville Community Legal Service said “it is time that the Commonwealth developed a National Framework on Elder Abuse, leading the work of the states and territories to combat elder abuse.”

The Director of Brisbane’s Caxton Legal Centre, Scott McDougall, highlighted the vital role of CLCs in combatting the growth of this peculiar form of domestic violence. “CLCs, with their strong ties to communities, are best placed to respond to the special needs of socially isolated elderly Australians – yet our ability to service these highly vulnerable clients is about to be severely curtailed by debilitating funding cuts,” Mr McDougall said.

The Senior Rights Service, assist older people across New South Wales. From July next year they are facing a 25 percent funding cut. “This would mean the organisation would have to reduce the working hours of its solicitors. If these cuts pass, 1400 vulnerable and marginalised older people in NSW will not have access to justice” said Craig Gear, President of Seniors Rights Service.

As a result, this World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, NACLC reiterates its call to all political parties for:

  1. The reversal of the Commonwealth funding cuts to CLCs under the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance amounting to $34.83 million from 1 July 2017 to 30 June 2020
  2. An immediate injection of $200 million per year into the broader legal assistance service system, as recommended by the Productivity Commission, which should be shared between the Commonwealth (60%) and the States and Territories (40%). This should equate to at least an additional $24 million per year allocated to CLCs ($14.4 million p.a. Commonwealth and $9.6 million p.a. from States and Territories); and
  3. A commitment by all levels of Government to implementing an appropriate process for determining adequate and sustainable longer-term funding contributions for legal assistance in consultation with the sector.

To arrange an interview or for more information please contact:

Scott McDougall, Caxton Legal Centre, (QLD) 0400 547 390
Bill Mitchell, Townsville Community Legal Service 0459 430 849
Craig Gear, Seniors Rights Service, (NSW) 0410 695 659
Caitlin Evans, Seniors Rights Victoria, 0423 707 549
Jackie Hanafie, Media Officer, 0412 652 439

Media Release: Community Lawyers welcome ALP funding commitment but more to do

The National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC) today welcomed the Australian Labor Party’s reiteration of its commitment to funding and support for community legal centres.

Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus QC MP today announced further details of the ALP’s policy on funding for community legal centres. Last year the ALP announced that they would provide CLCs with $42.9 over 3 years to assist CLCs undertaking family violence-related work. Today and over the coming weeks, the ALP will be announcing allocation of that funding to specific CLCs across Australia.

‘Community legal centres across Australia are being forced to turn away hundreds of thousands of people each year. This funding commitment from the ALP is welcome, and will make a real difference to the ability of centres across Australia to help people experiencing family violence’ said Amanda Alford, Director Policy and Advocacy at NACLC.

‘We also welcome the ALP’s acknowledgement that people experiencing family violence face a range of legal problems and need a range of legal assistance including for example in relation to credit and debt, housing and employment, which is reflected in the fact that all Commonwealth funded CLCs will receive some of the $42.9 million funding’ said Ms Alford.

‘While we welcome the additional funding, we are disappointed that the ALP has chosen to allocate funding amounts to individual centres without undertaking a transparent and evidence-based process for determining legal need and funding to meet that need’ added Ms Alford.

‘To date over 3 years the Coalition has provided or pledged $15 million and some part of $30 million for CLCs to undertake family violence-related work, but the overall amount is unlikely to match the ALP commitment. We think the ALP’s commitment sets a minimum funding benchmark in this area and call on the Coalition to match or exceed it’ she said.

‘Importantly however, neither the ALP or Coalition funding commitments are sufficient to address the broader funding cuts facing the sector, or to solve the crisis facing the legal assistance sector. We need an additional investment in the sector consistent with the Productivity Commission’s recommendations, as well as a long-term commitment to adequately funding the sector’ said Ms Alford.

‘The ALP has also highlighted its commitment to consultation with the sector around further funding and to ensuring that funding can be used for frontline services as well as the vital policy, advocacy and law reform work that CLCs undertake, which is currently restricted’ concluded Ms Alford.

NACLC continues to call on all parties to commit to:

  1. Reversing the $12.1 million funding cut to Community Legal Centres nationally in 2017-2018, the $11.6 million cut in 2018-2019 and the $11.13 million cut in 2019-2020 (amounting to a $34.83 million cut over the period 2017-18 to 2019-2020) under the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services. 
  2. Implementing the Productivity Commission’s recommendation from its Access to Justice Arrangements Inquiry and provide an immediate injection of $200 million per year into the legal assistance service sector, which should be shared between the Commonwealth (60%) and the States and Territories (40%). This should equate to at least an additional $24 million per year allocated to CLCs ($14.4 million p.a. Commonwealth and $9.6 million p.a. from States and Territories)
  3. Committing to implementing an appropriate process for determining adequate and sustainable longer-term funding contributions to the legal assistance sector by both Federal and State and Territory Governments, in consultation with the sector.

For further information or to arrange an interview contact:

Amanda Alford, Director Policy and Advocacy, 0421 028 645
Jackie Hanafie, Media Adviser, 0412 652 439

For comment on the specific announcements and particular funding challenges facing community legal centres in specific jurisdictions please contact:

  • NSW: Polly Porteous, Community Legal Centres NSW, 0415 156 020 (Note, funding was announced for a number of CLCs in NSW today)
  • Queensland: James Farrell, Community Legal Centres Queensland, 0411 206 835
  • Victoria: Katie Fraser, Federation of Community Legal Centres, 03 9652 1505
  • South Australia: Catherine McMorrine, SA Council of CLCs, 08 8384 5222
  • WA: Helen Creed, Community Legal Centres Association (WA), 08 9221 9322
  • Tasmania: Jane Hutchison, Community Legal Centres Tasmania, 03 6223 2500
  • NT: Caitlin Perry, Northern Territory Association of Community Legal Centres, 08 8982 1111
  • ACT: Genevieve Bolton, ACT Association of Community Legal Centres, 02 6218 7900

Media Release: Broad calls for legal assistance funding focus on law week

As National Law Week draws to a close, the National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC) has called on the Federal Government to listen to the chorus of voices that have expressed support for legal assistance services and concern about looming funding cuts this week.

‘This week we have seen thousands of people come out in support of legal assistance services at events and rallies across Australia’ said Daniel Stubbs, NACLC National Spokesperson.

‘We have heard individual clients, judges, community organisations and lawyers across Australia talking about the importance of legal assistance services, the impact of cuts, and the downstream costs to individuals, the community and governments of failing to invest in legal assistance’.

‘We have seen national and local media including in a number of rural and regional areas covering the impact of funding cuts in communities’.

‘Despite all this, Community Legal Centres continue to face a 30% cut nationally from 1 July next year, amounting to a $34.83 million cut over the forward estimates. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services are also facing cuts, and the underfunding of Family Violence Prevention Legal Services and Legal Aid Commissions continues’.

‘It is disappointing that neither major party has committed to fully reversing the funding cuts facing the sector, investing the funding the Productivity Commission recommended was necessary and urgent, or to adequate and sustainable long-term funding’.

Mr Stubbs welcomed the support of organisations like the Law Council of Australia which has launched a ‘Legal Aid Matters’ campaign. ‘It has been heartening to see so many individuals and organisations come out in support of the sector this week, as well as more broadly. It shows just how important access to free legal help is and the strong view that the Government isn’t doing enough to support the sector’.

This Law Week, NACLC reiterates its calls for:

  1. Reversal of the Commonwealth funding cuts to CLCs under the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance amounting to $34.83 million from 1 July 2017 to 30 June 2020
  2. An immediate injection of $200 million per year to legal assistance services, as recommended by the Productivity Commission, which should be shared between the Commonwealth (60%) and the States and Territories (40%). This should equate to at least an additional $24 million per year allocated to CLCs ($14.4 million p.a. Commonwealth and $9.6 million p.a. from States/Territories)
  3. A commitment by all levels of Government to implementing an appropriate process for determining adequate and sustainable longer-term funding contributions for legal assistance in consultation with the sector.

To arrange an interview or for more information please contact:

Daniel Stubbs, National Spokesperson, 0437 253 543
Amanda Alford, Director Policy and Advocacy, 0421 028 645
Jo Scard, Media Adviser, 0457 725 953