Media Release: Tasmanian CLCs saved for another year as State Government covers federal funding shortfall

In welcome news, the Tasmanian state government has committed to covering the federal funding shortfall of community legal centres (CLCs) over 2017/18.

The Tasmanian government’s investment in the legal assistance sector will fully offset 30 per cent cuts in federal government funding to five community legal centres (CLCs) as well as the Legal Aid Commission of Tasmania that was due to commence on 1 July 2017.

“CLCs across Tasmania were facing reduced service delivery as a result of the Federal Government’s funding cuts to the sector, so it is a huge relief to be able to let the Tasmanian community know that the same level of service can continue to be provided,” said Jane Hutchison, the Chair of Community Legal Centres Tasmania.

“We welcome the Tasmanian Government’s commitment to cover the federal funding shortfall in the 2017/18 financial year. This commitment is an endorsement of the work of the sector and its essential role in providing legal services to vulnerable Australians – including women and children experiencing family violence, people with disability and people experiencing elder abuse – who cannot get legal assistance anywhere else,” she said.

CEO of the National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC) Nassim Arrage also welcomed the move.

“We thank the Tasmanian Government for their commitment to cover the federal funding shortfall of CLCs,” Mr Arrage said.

“However, we note that this funding is only for the next financial year. The only real solution to the current funding crisis is for federal, state and territory governments to work together to maintain the core funding that was made available for CLCs, while immediately injecting an additional $200 million as recommended by the Productivity Commission.

“CLCs need secure, stable and adequate funding if they are to plan and continue to provide high quality legal services that meet community needs.

“We call on the Federal Government to show leadership and reverse the 30 per cent funding cut to the sector in the upcoming Federal Budget, and to work with state and territory governments to secure long term funding for CLCs.

“The National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC) looks forward to working with all levels of Government to ensure the Australian community has access to free, high quality legal services,” he said.

To arrange an interview or for more information please contact:
Jane Hutchison 0417 596 919
Nassim Arrage 0408 092 256

Media Release: Cuts loom for crucial legal support for women this International Women’s Day

The National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC) today renewed calls on the Australian Government to demonstrate its commitment to addressing family violence by reversing looming funding cuts to Community Legal Centres that will take effect from July 1 this year.

“Community Legal Centres (CLCs) play a vital role in providing legal help to people experiencing family violence. Family violence is one of the top areas of law in which CLCs provide support to hundreds of thousands of people every year”, said NACLC Chairperson Sara Kane.

“The 30 per cent federal funding cut facing CLCs in the coming months will have a dramatically negative impact on the ability of survivors to access quality legal services”, she added.

“It is alarming to think of the family violence victims that will be turned away at CLCs who no longer have the capacity to help them. Some outreach programs will be forced to close. I cannot underestimate the seriousness of the situation facing CLCs”, Ms Kane said.

“Just last week we saw comments by the CEO of the Family Court of Australia acknowledging the impact of the cuts on the work of the Family Court. These cuts will be felt across the legal sector”, she said.

“We welcome the Government’s injection of funding last year for legal assistance of victims of family violence, but it does not come close to offsetting the funding cuts we will see from July 1 this year”, said Ms Kane.

“International Women’s Day is a pivotal time for all levels of government to demonstrate their commitment to ending family violence. This includes a commitment to reverse the funding cuts to CLCs and Family Violence Prevention Legal Services to allow them to continue the important work of providing essential legal services to victims of family violence”, Ms Kane concluded.

NACLC calls on the Federal Government to:

  • Reverse the national funding cuts to CLCs under the National Partnership Agreement (amounting to $34.83 million between 1 July 2017 and 30 June 2020)
  • Immediately inject $120 million per year into the legal assistance sector, consistent with the recommendation made by the Productivity Commission, including at a minimum $14.4 million per year to CLCs
  • Commit to developing a process for determining sustainable long-term funding contributions to the legal assistance sector; and
  • Provide additional funding for other legal assistance services, including Family Violence Prevention Legal Services, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services and Legal Aid Commissions.

To arrange an interview or for more information please contact:
Nassim Arrage, CEO, 0408 092 256

Media Release: Community Legal Centres: Protecting rights for everyday people every day

Today on Human Rights Day, the National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC) highlighted the vital work of Community Legal Centres in safeguarding the rights of people across Australia every day.

The theme for this year’s Human Rights Day is ‘Stand Up for Someone’s Rights Today’. “Community Legal Centres (CLCs) across Australia provide free legal help and related services to thousands of people and stand up for their rights every day” said Dan Stubbs, NACLC National Spokesperson.

“We help clients with a range of legal problems in areas such as domestic violence, homelessness, family law, tenancy, discrimination, credit and debt and employment issues. Whether it is in protecting the rights of vulnerable and disadvantaged people, educating the community about their rights or advocating for fairer laws and policies, CLCs provide crucial services” said Mr Stubbs.

“However, CLCs are facing a 30% funding cliff nationally from 1 July 2017 that will severely limit our ability to continue to protect human rights for people across Australia” added Mr Stubbs.

“The 16 Days of Activism also ends today, which provides an important opportunity to reflect on the disproportionate levels of violence and abuse against women and girls, and again acknowledge that CLCs are a key part of addressing and responding to family violence” he said.

“Today we once again urge the Federal Government to work with us to stand up for the rights of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in our community through access to legal help, including by reversing the looming funding cliff facing CLCs” concluded Mr Stubbs.

To arrange an interview or for more information contact:

Daniel Stubbs, NACLC National Spokesperson, 0437 253 543
Amanda Alford, NACLC Director Policy and Advocacy, 0421 028 645

Media Release: Disability lawyers call for more legal help for people with disability on International Day

The National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC) and the Australian Disability Rights Network today acknowledge International Day of People with Disability, held annually on 3 December, but emphasised that this year there is a real threat to free legal help for people with disability.

“Community Legal Centres across Australia provide free legal help to many Australians including people with disability every day. Our National Census of CLCs 2015 showed that 26.6% of our clients on average identify as having a disability and we know that this figure is actually much higher” said Dan Stubbs, National Spokesperson of the National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC).

“Our experience in helping clients with disability tells us that often they have a multitude of legal problems and barriers to accessing justice. Community lawyers assist people with disability in crucial areas such as discrimination in work and education, domestic violence and other situations of abuse, and access to goods and services” he said.

“Unfortunately however, the 30% funding cut that CLCs are facing nationally from 1 July next year will limit our ability to give people with disability access to the vital legal help they need” he added.

There are a number of specialist disability CLCs across Australia, including: Australian Centre for Disability Law, AED Legal Centre, Disability Discrimination Legal Service, Intellectual Disability Rights Service, Mental Health Law Centre, Villamanta Disability Rights Legal Centre and Mental Health Legal Centre.

“On days like today it is important to highlight the key role CLCs play in helping people with disability, including the network of specialist CLCs that have particular expertise in assisting people with disability” added Mark Patrick, Convenor of the Australian Disability Rights Network.

“We are also part way through the 16 Days of Activism, an important time to acknowledge the very high and disproportionate levels of violence and abuse against women with disability and the intersection of gender and disability” continued Mr Stubbs.

“Today, and as part of the 16 Days of Activism, we remind the Federal Government of the urgency of these issues and the importance of working with the sector to reverse the planned funding cliff, which is  $35 million nationally for CLCs, to ensure people with disability get access to vital legal help” concluded Mr Stubbs.

To arrange an interview or for more information contact:                

Daniel Stubbs, NACLC, National Spokesperson, 0437 253 543
Mark Patrick, Convenor, Australian Disability Rights Network, 0423 399 558
Amanda Alford, NACLC, Director Policy and Advocacy, 0421 028 645

Media Release: Community lawyers at frontline of family violence call for Government support

Today, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, is an opportunity to acknowledge the vital work that Community Legal Centres do to help women and children experiencing family violence.

“Community Legal Centres across Australia provide free legal help to hundreds of thousands of women and girls experiencing family violence” said Dan Stubbs, National Spokesperson of the National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC).

“We help with immediate issues such as safety planning and protection orders as well as other issues related to the violence such as family law, credit and debt, problems with Centrelink, tenancy disputes, and employment issues” he said.

“Through our Health Justice Partnerships we provide free legal help to women who attend medical appointments. So often this is the only chance for a woman experiencing family violence to leave the house alone, and so getting them immediate assistance in that window is crucial” he added.

Women’s Legal Services are specialist Community Legal Centres that provide assistance to women experiencing legal problems arising from family violence and relationship breakdown.

“On days like today it is important to reflect the key role Women’s Legal Services play in helping victim survivors of family violence” said Agata Wierzbowski, National Law Reform Coordinator for Women’s Legal Services Australia (WLSA).

“Every day we help women access safety, help with immediate and long-term legal issues arising out of family violence, and in some cases save women’s lives” added Ms Wierzbowski.

“However, we can’t begin to address family violence without addressing the problems in our family law system. That’s why WLSA, together with Rosie Batty, have developed a 5-Step Plan to Safety First in Family Law” she said.

“One part of that Plan is to ensure adequate funding for family violence services, including Community Legal Centres” Ms Wierzbowski added.

“It is timely that this year’s theme for today is ‘Orange the world: raise money to end violence against women and girls’ given that CLCs across Australia will face a 30% funding cliff from 1 July next year” said Mr Stubbs.

“We are set to lose almost $35 million over the next few years nationally. This will mean that women and children experiencing family violence won’t get the legal help they need”.

“Starting today, the next 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence are a pertinent reminder to the Federal Government of the urgency of this issue and the importance of working with the sector to reverse the funding cliff and ensure women across Australia get this vital legal help” concluded Mr Stubbs.

To arrange an interview or for more information contact:                

Daniel Stubbs, NACLC National Spokesperson, 0437 253 543
Agata Wierzbowski, WLSA National Law Reform Coordinator, 0431 975 770
Amanda Alford, NACLC Director Policy and Advocacy, 0421 028 645

For more information about the Orange the World Campaign see: UNiTE to End Violence

Media Release: Strong legal profession support for Community Legal Centres in face of funding cliff

The National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC) has welcomed the open letter from the heads of all state and territory law societies published today calling for the reversal of the funding cliff facing Community Legal Centres (CLCs) and funding for the legal assistance sector.

The open letter was signed by all state and territory law societies, representing over 60,000 solicitors across Australia, and published in The Australian today. The letter echoes the concern expressed by leaders of pro bono practices at major Australian law firms about the funding of Community Legal Centres in another open letter published in The Australian in June this year.

“We welcome the support shown by the private legal profession across Australia for the vital work that Community Legal Centres and the legal assistance sector do, and the reversal of the 30% funding cliff facing CLCs from 1 July next year” said Dan Stubbs, NACLC National Spokesperson.

“Community Legal Centres and the other legal assistance providers help hundreds of thousands of people across Australia every year. The underfunding of these services and the funding cliff will have a significant impact on the ability of people to get the legal help they need” he added.

“Many CLCs work closely with law firms and individual lawyers to provide services to vulnerable and disadvantaged clients. It is heartening to see the Law Council of Australia, Australian Bar Association, all state and territory law societies and pro bono firms all come out in support of CLCs and the sector recently” he said.

“When there is this level of concern about the funding cliff across the profession, it sends a strong message that the funding crisis facing CLCs will have a huge impact on our clients, but also on the broader legal profession and justice system, given our important preventative and early intervention work” he said.

“We look forward to continuing to work with the Attorney-General and the legal assistance sector, with the support of the profession, to address the funding cliff and discuss the ongoing work and sustainability of the legal assistance sector” concluded Mr Stubbs.

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:
Daniel Stubbs, NACLC National Spokesperson, 0437 253 543
Amanda Alford, NACLC Director Policy and Advocacy, 0421 028 645

Media Release: NACLC acknowledges limited additional family violence funding for Community Legal Centres

The National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC) today acknowledged the announcement by the Commonwealth Government of a $5 million one-year extension of the pilot funding provided to Community Legal Centres (CLCs) and Legal Aid Commissions under the Women’s Safety Package for specialist family violence units and Health Justice Partnerships.

The announcement at the COAG National Family Violence Summit came as the Government unveiled the allocation of an additional $30 million over three years for legal assistance services under the Third Action Plan under the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children. The announcement also included $18 million additional funding for Legal Aid Commissions as well as additional funding for Family Relationship Centres.

“Any additional funding for CLCs providing vital services to people experiencing family violence is welcome. We welcome the Government’s acknowledgement of the work of CLCs in providing vital services for people experiencing family violence” said Dan Stubbs, NACLC National Spokesperson.

“However, it is important to recognise that the announcement is very limited. It is for $5 million to be shared by only 11 of over 185 CLCs across Australia for one year. It does not address the broader funding cliff facing CLCs from 1 July next year” he said.

“We are extremely concerned about the impact the funding cliff, a 30% reduction in Commonwealth funding for CLCs nationally, will have on people experiencing family violence. Given the broader reduction will take effect during the same period as these pilots, and will force centres to close or reduce services, there is a real risk that the cut will negate the positive impact of this additional funding” he added.

“We are also disappointed that no funding was allocated to Family Violence Prevention Legal Services and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services as a vital part of the legal assistance sector. However, we are hopeful of an announcement of additional funding for those services as part of the  additional $25 million identified for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and initiatives under the Third Action Plan” he said.

“Overall, while we had hoped for more funding for CLCs, we are committed to working with the Government to ensure people experiencing family violence get the legal help they need, as well as working to reverse the looming funding cliff facing CLCs and the legal assistance sector” concluded Mr Stubbs.

For further information or to arrange an interview contact: 

Dan Stubbs, NACLC National Spokesperson, 0437 253 543
Amanda Alford, NACLC Director Policy and Advocacy, 0421 028 645

Announcement Details

  • Over $18 million to Legal Aid Commissions for integrated duty lawyer and social support services in family law courts
  • $5 million to twelve CLCs and Legal Aid Commissions that received funding under the Women’s Safety Package to establish specialist domestic violence units and Health Justice Partnerships to extend those pilots for an additional year
  • $6.2 million for Family Relationship Centres to pilot family dispute resolution for vulnerable families, particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and culturally and linguistically diverse families
  • $300,000 for data analysis across the legal assistance sector to enhance understanding of domestic, family and sexual violence.

Media Release: UN Special Rapporteur calls on Government to stop restrictions on Community Legal Centres and reverse funding cuts

The National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC) has welcomed the strong statement released today by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, Mr Michel Forst, calling on the Australia Government to recognise, respect and fund the work of community organisations and human rights defenders, including Community Legal Centres.

Mr Forst issued the statement following a two week visit to Australia and meetings with Federal and State and Territory Government representatives, academics and community organisations across Australia, including NACLC and Community Legal Centres.

Funding for Community Legal Centres

The Special Rapporteur’s statement emphasised the vital work of Community Legal Centres “long perceived as stalwart provider of free and accessible legal and related services to hundreds of thousands of people each year”. He also emphasised concern about the funding cliff facing Community Legal Centres- “I am worried that the cut will have a significant impact on Community Legal Centres and their staff, as well as highly vulnerable and disadvantaged clients they support” and recommend that the Federal Government “reviews budgetary allocations with a view to preventing detrimental effects on legal assistance”.

“We welcome the Special Rapporteurs’ recognition of the role of Community Legal Centres and the significant impact that a 30% cut to Commonwealth funding from 1 July next year will have on our centres and clients and recommendation to Government to review the funding situation” said Dan Stubbs, NACLC National Spokesperson.

“This is yet another voice joining the chorus of voices calling for the Government to reverse the funding cuts to Community Legal Centres. We continue to call on the Government to reverse the funding cuts and work with us as a sector to ensure the most vulnerable and disadvantaged members of our community get the legal help they need” added Mr Stubbs.

Restrictions on Advocacy

Mr Forst also expressed concerns about a restriction under the National Partnership Agreement for Legal Assistance that prohibits Community Legal Centres from using Commonwealth funding to undertake policy, advocacy and law reform activities.

He said such restrictions are “contrary to the principle of a free and democratic society” and emphasised that the “profound knowledge” of organisations such as Community Legal Centres “makes them extremely valuable source of expertise”.  He added:

“The Government has increasingly stressed a distinction between “frontline services” and “advocacy” work of peak bodies, with the latter function not meriting official funds. To me, such a distinction is rather paradoxical because it is impossible for those organizations to provide direct services to vulnerable populations, without advocating for their rights in that process. And such advocacy should be seen as important feedback for the Government to consider in its formulation of policy approaches to addressing systemic issues”.

“We also welcome the Special Rapportuers’ comments in relation to the vital policy, advocacy and law reform work of Community Legal Centres and his emphasis on the importance of Government funding and recognition of the importance of such work and recommendation that restrictions on such work be removed from all Commonwealth and State funding agreements” said Mr Stubbs.

“The Special Rapporteurs’ comments echo those made by the Productivity Commission in its 2014 Access to Justice Arrangements Report, which recognised that law reform and advocacy is a core activity of CLCs, that such work is an efficient way to use limited taxpayer dollars, and that the Government should support it being undertaken” he added.

“We continue to call on the Government to fund this vital work and to recognise the intrinsic relationship between delivery of frontline legal service delivery and law reform and advocacy work” concluded Mr Stubbs.

NACLC also welcomes the comments and recommendations made by the Special Rapporteur in relation to Environmental Defenders Offices; sustainable and certain funding for community organisations and peak bodies such as the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples; the need for a national Human Rights Act; and the important role and independence of the Australian Human Rights Commission.

The Special Rapporteur’s statement is available here: http://un.org.au/2016/10/18/australian-government-must-re-build-trust-of-civil-society-un-human-rights-expert/

For further information or to arrange an interview contact: 

Dan Stubbs, NACLC National Spokesperson, 0437 253 543
Amanda Alford, NACLC Director Policy and Advocacy, 0421 028 645

Media Release: Legal assistance services key for access to justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities confirms new Parliamentary Report

The National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC) has welcomed the Final Report released yesterday by the Senate Finance and Public Administration Committee into ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experience of law enforcement and justice services’. The Report contains a number of important recommendations aimed at ensuring better access to justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The Report recognises the vital role legal assistance services such as Family Violence Prevention Legal Services, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, Community Legal Centres and Legal Aid Commission play in providing free legal help to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across Australia.

“We know the crucial role that legal assistance services provide in assisting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people access the legal help they need. We welcome the Report recommendations and in particular recognition of the urgent need for additional funding for these services,” said Dan Stubbs, NACLC National Spokesperson.

“Currently, the Report’s recommendations are contradicted by funding cuts faced by Community Legal Centres and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, and underfunding of the other legal assistance services” he added.

The Report also includes important recommendations in relation to the need for funding and support for justice reinvestment approaches, justice targets and review of laws that have a disproportionate impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people such as mandatory sentencing laws.

“As a member of the Change the Record Steering Committee, NACLC is also pleased to see the endorsement of justice reinvestment approaches and a recommendation in relation to justice targets, which are a vital tool in attempting to address the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the criminal justice system” said Mr Stubbs.

“This is yet another important Report that outlines the key steps necessary to seriously address the barriers to accessing justice faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We hope that the Commonwealth Government as well as State and Territory Governments consider the Report and work constructively with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and organisations, as well as legal assistance bodies such as NACLC to implement the recommendations” he concluded.

NACLC, along with other legal assistance peak bodies, made a written submission and provided evidence as part of the Inquiry. The NACLC submission is available here.

For further information or to arrange an interview contact: 

Dan Stubbs, NACLC National Spokesperson, 0437 253 543
Amanda Alford, NACLC Director Policy and Advocacy, 0421 028 645

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