Budget lifeline for Community Legal Centres

The National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC) tonight welcomed an additional $39 million in the Federal Budget for Community Legal Centres (NACLC), reversing the 30% cut to Commonwealth funding for CLCs that was due to take effect on 1 July 2017.

“Tonight we welcome the additional funding. It provides a critical lifeline for all those people who rely on the help of CLCs every day and for our centres and communities across Australia,” said NACLC Chief Executive Officer Nassim Arrage.

“The reversal will mean people across Australia will get access to the legal help they were going to be denied from 1 July if the funding cliff went ahead.”

“We have worked hard over a long period of time to emphasise the vital services that CLCs provide and the devastating impact cuts would have had – today the Government has recognised this”.

“We also welcome an additional $3.4 million for six new domestic violence units at CLCs and Legal Aid Commissions”.

“There is still some uncertainty about the exact allocation of this new funding. Given the importance of certainty for our centres and communities, we look forward to receiving more detailed information”.

“This Budget addresses the immediate funding crisis for most CLCs, but there is more work to do”

“There is more work to do in ensuring increased, secure and long-term funding for the legal assistance sector. There is more work to do with Government towards a fairer society where anyone can receive legal help when they need it, not just when they can afford it”.

“CLCs are at the core of communities across Australia and almost every line in the Budget directly impacts a group of people we help”

“As a result, we are concerned about a number of measures in the Budget tonight, including in relation to social security that will have a negative impact on the people our centres help, contribute to the stresses on people that lead to legal problems, and to increased demand for our services”.

“We are also concerned about the lack of attention to the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the justice system, and the ongoing failure to fund National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples.”

We do however welcome a number of Budget measures, including the additional  $16.7 million funding for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, $1.2 million funding for knowmore as part of the National Redress Scheme establishment, and a number of family violence and family law initiatives.

To arrange an interview or for more information please contact:

Nassim Arrage, CEO NACLC, 0408 092 256
Amanda Alford, Director Policy and Advocacy NACLC, 0421 028 645

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

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