Media Release: Community Lawyers Welcome Greens Plan to Address Family Violence

The National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC) today welcomed the announcement by the Greens of their plan to address family violence, including through funding for legal assistance services.

The policy ‘Confronting Our Domestic Violence Crisis: Enough is Enough- Funding Our Front Line Services’ was released by Greens spokesperson Senator Larissa Waters. It includes a $5 billion plan over ten years to increase investment in front line services to address and respond to family violence.

“We welcome the Greens acknowledgement of the family violence crisis in Australia and the need for significant investment to address that crisis” said Daniel Stubbs, NACLC National Spokesperson.

“We also welcome the Greens acknowledgement of the need to reverse the funding cuts to community legal centres (CLCs), implement the Productivity Commission’s recommendations and invest long-term in the legal assistance sector” said Mr Stubbs.

“We are disappointed that there was no specific funding for CLCs included in the package announced today, however the Greens have indicated that they will make further specific funding commitments for CLCs, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services and Legal Aid Commissions in the coming weeks and we look forward to hearing more” added Mr Stubbs.

“An important part of the package is the specific funding for Family Violence Prevention Legal Services (FVPLS) of $144 million additional funds over 4 years. The FVPLS provide vital services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women experiencing family violence and it is vital that these community controlled services receive the funding they need” added Mr Stubbs.

“We are also pleased to see that the package includes $60 million to implement the recommendations made as part of the Safety First in Family Law Campaign being run by one of NACLC’s National Networks, Women’s Legal Services Australia. The Campaign outlines five steps to creating a family law system that keeps women and children safe and is a vital part of any national response to family violence, so reform consistent with these steps as well as associated funding is very welcome” concluded Mr Stubbs.

For further information or to arrange an interview contact:

Dan Stubbs, National Spokesperson, 0437 253 543
Amanda Alford, Director Policy and Advocacy, 0421 028 645
Jackie Hanafie, Media Adviser, 0412 652 439

To discuss the Women’s Legal Services Australia Safety First in Family Law Campaign, contact:
Emma Smallwood, Women’s Legal Services Australia, 03 8622 0600

Media Alert: Community law spokesperson available for comment ahead of tonight’s regional leaders’ debate

Community Law Australia Spokesperson Dan Stubbs is available for comment today to discuss concerns around access to justice in regional and remote areas ahead of tonight’s Regional Leaders’ Debate in Goulburn.

Key points:

  • Dan Stubbs available for comment on 0437 253 543
  • Mr Stubbs can provide commentary on the overall funding cuts to community legal centres, the impact of cuts on regional and rural communities, role of legal assistance for these areas and other related issues
  • People living in regional areas have higher odds of experiencing multiple legal problems when they experience a legal problem when compared to people living in major cities, which means access to legal help is vital
  • Community legal centres (CLCs) are a central part of regional and remote communities as they are often the only point of call for legal assistance in these areas
  • CLCs are particularly important as people in these areas already experience difficulty accessing vital services
  • CLCs assist people in regional and remote areas with a range of issues, including credit and debt, housing, employment, family violence and family law and social security issues. They also help farmers in particular in dealing with banks and consumer issues, planning law and environmental issues
  • CLCs use a variety of methods to help clients, including outreach across Australia and technology such as Skype which means clients can still get help when they need it, even if they are unable to travel to a CLC office
  • CLCs are facing significant funding cuts and the impact of these cuts will mean fewer people in regional areas will be able to access the vital legal help they

For further information or to arrange an interview contact:
Dan Stubbs, Spokesperson, 0437 253 543
Amanda Alford, Director Policy and Advocacy, 0421 028 645
Jackie Hanafie, Media Adviser, 0412 652 439

 

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

Media Release: Additional Family Violence funding welcome but inadequate

The National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC) welcomes the announcement of an extra $30 million of Commonwealth funding over 3 years for legal assistance services to assist people experiencing family violence.

The Attorney-General George Brandis and Minister for Women Michaelia Cash made the announcement in Brisbane today. The $30 million is part of the extra $100 million allocated in last week’s Federal Budget to implement the Third Action Plan under the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children.

‘We welcome any additional funding for legal assistance services, including Community Legal Centres (CLCs), Family Violence Prevention Legal Services (FVPLS), Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (ATSILS) and Legal Aid Commissions (LACs), directed at addressing family violence and this is a positive step,’ NACLC National Spokesperson Daniel Stubbs said.

‘This additional funding adds to the $15 million provided to CLCs and LACs under the Women’s Safety Package and means that we will be able to continue to provide some of the crucial legal help women experiencing family violence need. We also welcome the Government’s commitment to consulting the sector about the best way to allocate the additional funding’.

‘However, we have a number of serious concerns about the funding’.

‘It is difficult to understand why the Government would provide CLCs with some share of $10 million per year as part of this funding, but during the same period cut CLCs by 30% nationally. It is tantamount to paying for a new roof on a house but removing the foundations at the same time’.

‘$10 million per year over three years is a totally inadequate amount for legal assistance services in the face of rising demand and funding cuts. CLCs alone are facing funding cuts of $34.83 million over three years from 1 July next year’.

‘The broader package of $100 million is also insufficient to address family and domestic violence more broadly. We know countless frontline services are facing funding cuts and uncertainty, and the Government’s stated commitment to addressing family violence isn’t backed up by adequate funding’.

‘It is also important to recognise that women experiencing family violence face a range of legal problems. So often CLCs help women with tenancy, debt, social security and employment law issues. It is vital that this is recognised in allocating the funding, and further highlights the importance of reversing the broader funding cuts to the sector’.

‘While we welcome the Government’s statement that the funding will encompass targeted assistance for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and their children, some proportion of $10 million is just not enough. We know Aboriginal women are 34 times more likely to be hospitalised and the crucial role that services like the FVPLS provide, and so additional and specific investment in these services is crucial’.

‘Overall, we look forward to working with the Government in the short-term to implement an appropriate allocation model for this one-off $30 million funding, but also more broadly to see a reversal of the looming funding cuts facing CLCs and adequate and sustainable long-term funding for the entire legal assistance sector,’ concluded Mr Stubbs.

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

Note to Editors

NACLC continues to call on the Federal Government to:

  1. Reverse 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. Implement 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. Commit 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.

Media Alert: Community Law Australia spokesperson available for comment

National Association of Community Legal Centres Chair and Community Law Australia Spokesperson Rosslyn Monro is available for comment at Parliament House today from 9am to 4pm to provide commentary on the impact of funding cuts to legal assistance services announced in the Federal Budget last night and additional funding for family violence.

  • Rosslyn Monro available for comment at Parliament House from 9am-4pm
  • Alternatively, Ms Monro is available on 0407 633 084
  • Ms Monro can provide commentary on overall funding cuts, impact of cuts, role of legal assistance in responding to family violence and the additional funding for family violence, the Productivity Commission’s Access to Justice Arrangements Inquiry Report and other related issues

Quotes attributable to Rosslyn Monro:

“This years Budget is a missed opportunity to reverse funding cuts to community legal centres of 30% from 1 July next year.”

“We are extremely disappointed that the Government hasn’t prioritised access to legal help for people across Australia”. 

“CLCs helped over 215,000 people with free legal advice last year and had to turn away over 160,000 largely due to a lack of funding – these are the people that will suffer as a result of this Budget”.

We welcome the additional funding for family violence, however it remains unclear how much of that will come to legal assistance services, and is unlikely to counter the impact of our overall funding cuts.

Community legal centres help people with a wide range of legal problems. While family law and family violence are our top two areas of law, reversal of the funding cuts in additional to any extra family violence funding is crucial to ensure we can continue to assist people in areas such as credit and debt, housing, employment, and social security.

Facing a deficit of $37.1 billion in this Budget we understand the Government needs to make difficult decisions. However, it has ignored the expert recommendations made by bodies such as the Productivity Commission in forming this Budget, in particular the clear view that investing broadly in legal assistance services makes economic sense, and that there is an urgent need for additional funding.

For further information or to arrange an interview contact:

Rosslyn Monro, Chairperson, 0407 633 084
Amanda Alford, Director Policy and Advocacy, 0421 028 645
Jackie Hanafie, Media Adviser, 0412 652 439

Budget cuts to legal assistance services hit vulnerable hardest

Australia’s most vulnerable people who require vital access to legal assistance services have once again been let down by the Federal Government in this year’s Budget, says the National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC).

The 2016-17 Federal Budget does not reverse the looming funding cuts or include any additional investment in legal assistance service, including Community Legal Centres, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, Family Violence Prevention Legal Services or Legal Aid Commissions.

“This year’s Budget is a missed opportunity to stop the funding cuts and ensure the most disadvantaged and vulnerable people across Australia have access to legal assistance,” NACLC Chairperson Rosslyn Monro said.

“The Government has failed our most vulnerable by not prioritising access to legal help for hundreds of thousands of people across Australia”.

“Community Legal Centres helped over 215,000 people with free legal advice last year and had to turn away over 160,000 largely due to lack of funding. These are the people that will suffer as a result of this Budget”.

“The unchanged funding in the Budget means the funding cliff for Community Legal Centres under the National Partnership Agreement for Legal Assistance is still a reality, amounting to $34.83 million cut between 1 July 2017 and 30 June 2020”.

“We are also extremely concerned that funding cuts to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services amounting to over $6 million between 2014-2015 and 2017-2018 will continue, as will the underfunding of Family Violence Prevention and Legal Services and Legal Aid Commissions”.

“We welcome the additional funding for family violence, but it is disappointing that funding does not include funding for legal assistance services”.

“Facing a deficit of $37.1 billion in this Budget we understand the Government needs to make difficult decisions. However, it has ignored the expert recommendations made by bodies such as the Productivity Commission in forming this Budget, in particular the clear view that investing in legal assistance services makes economic sense, and that there is an urgent need for additional funding”.

“Time is running out. Community Legal Centre are facing a 30% cut to funding nationally from 1 July next year and hard decisions are already being made about cuts to services and staff.”

“The bottom line is that these cuts will have a significant impact on the ability of people across Australia to access the legal help they need. They deserve better. The message in the Budget was that the Government doesn’t think this is a priority,” Ms Monro concluded.

For further information or to arrange an interview contact:
Rosslyn Monro, Chairperson, 0407 633 084
Amanda Alford, Director Policy and Advocacy, 0421 028 645
Jackie Hanafie, Media Adviser, 0412 652 439

Free Legal services for young people under threat

Young people across Australia should be celebrating the opportunity to ‘Be The Future’ this National Youth Week says the National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC), not worrying about their legal problems or the ability to pay bills for a legal issue that won’t go away.

Community Legal Centres (CLCs) provide free legal help to children and young people across Australia. In 2015, CLCs assisted over 74,000 young people between 18-34 years and over 3,500 young people under 18 years. CLCs also provide free legal help to parents and others on issues affecting children, including over 3,300 advices on child protection issues and over 4,000 advices on child support last year” said Rosslyn Monro, NACLC Chairperson.

The Youth Advocacy Centre is a specialist CLC based in Brisbane. “We provide a range of services including legal advice and referrals to young people in the youth justice and child protection systems, and information and support to young people appearing in courts and tribunals, including a duty lawyer service at the Brisbane Children’s Court” said Janet Wight, Director, Youth Advocacy Centre.

“As well as providing court/casework to young people, we also run community legal education in schools and in the community which is crucial in letting young people know what their legal rights are, and what to do if they have a legal problem.”

The young people we help are extremely vulnerable. For example, last year 44% of our legal services clients were not living at home; 50% of our legal, youth support and family support clients had a past or current substance use problem; 45% of family support clients had a past or current mental health problem; and 77% of our bail support clients were known to Child Safety Services. Our service is crucial in ensuring that these young people get the advice and support they need,” Ms Wight said.

“At Youthlaw we are co-located with other youth services. We assist vulnerable young people who would otherwise not seek out legal help by themselves. They come from backgrounds of family breakdown, family violence, neglect and disadvantage. Most have been in families that have had no intervention from child protection system and are largely invisible to the community. We assist with their fines, debts, mistreatment and interactions with authorities. They are so thankful for our help. For once they feel the support and protection of the law instead of fearing its use against them. Legal help along with other services makes a big difference and allows them to get on with their lives,” said Ariel Couchman, Director of Youthlaw, based in Melbourne.

CLCs use a range of innovative tools to engage with children and young people. For example, the

2014 National Census of Community Legal Centres indicated that almost 20 percent of CLCs that responded use skype to provide legal advice and over 16 percent use Youtube to provide community legal education.

Youthlaw in Melbourne is an example of one of those CLCs that uses skype to reach out to its clients. Ms Couchman said “our skype legal service throughout regional Victoria reaches out to vulnerable young people where there is high disadvantage and few services and supports. This service is simple & cost effective and works with those most in need yet we struggle every year to get funding to keep it going.”

“However, CLCs across Australia face a 30% funding cut to Federal funding from 1 July next year. That sort of cut will have a significant impact on the ability of CLCs to help children and young people who need our help” added Rosslyn Monro, NACLC Chairperson.

As a result, this National Youth Week, NACLC reiterates its call 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 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.

Open the link to view the PDF: Free Legal services for young people under threat

 To arrange an interview or for more information please contact:

 Rosslyn Monro, NACLC Chairperson, 0407 633 084
Jackie Levett, Media Officer, 0434 995 611
Janet Wight, Director, Youth Advocacy Centre (Brisbane), 07 3356 1002
Ariel Couchman, Director, Youthlaw (Melbourne), 0438 812 937

 

Open letter to the Council of Australian Governments

Dear Prime Minister, Premiers, Chief Ministers and Australian Local Government Association representatives,

We write to you today, ahead of the 1 April 2016 meeting of COAG, to call for your collective resolution of the growing threat of inequity in the access to justice for people across Australia.

Over 216,000 people receive free legal help each year from Community Legal Centres across Australia. Assistance is provided on a range of legal matters including family violence and family law, tenancy, credit and debt and consumer issues. As confirmed by the Productivity Commission[1], government investment in these services makes good economic sense. Community Legal Centres prevent the escalation of often relatively simple issues into complex legal matters that have expensive implications for Legal Aid Commissions and the Courts, as well as other essential community service systems.

Despite this, under the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance (NPA), national funding to Community Legal Centres will be cut by 30% from 2017, equating to $34.83 million between 1 July 2017 and 30 June 2020. Already over 160,000 people have to be turned away each year due to inadequate resourcing. It is clear that more funding is required, not less.

In recognising the critical role played by legal services in preventing and responding to domestic and family violence, the report of the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence released this week calls for increased investment in Community Legal Centres.[2]

The Commonwealth’s investment through the Women’s Safety Package is also a clear acknowledgement of the role played by Community Legal Centres in addressing this national priority issue. However, providing additional funding to 10 of the 150 Community Legal Centres funded under the NPA does not equate to the maintenance of the well established supports for this target group provided by Community Legal Centres across Australia.

COAG’s capacity to address its own priority of preventing violence against women and their children now and into the future is significantly undermined by the cuts instituted through the National Partnership Agreement.

Unlike other Commonwealth/State partnerships, the NPA is silent with respect to State and Territory contributions. Not only does the NPA compound the inequity in the access to justice for ordinary Australians between jurisdictions, it fails to provide a mechanism to agree appropriate arrangements for current and future government investment in essential community legal services.

The Commonwealth’s decision to cut funding under the NPA without proposing how this funding shortfall will be addressed is a fundamental example of the risk to funding certainty and durability highlighted in the Reform of Federation White Paper process.[3] Without resolution of this very problematic financial outlook, State and Territory governments will be left to bear the political risk of implementing a reduction in service availability that also has resource implications for other State/Territory funded services.

It is clear that a collaborative federal approach to preventing escalation in the inequity in access to justice is required. This should not only focus on reversing the cuts scheduled under the NPA. It needs to redress the current shortfalls in the system and establish a way for agreeing how legal need is sustainably and equitably addressed into the future.

In recognition of the inadequacy of the current funding arrangements the Productivity Commission has called for an immediate injection of $200 million a year into the broader legal assistance service system, with 60% to be contributed by the Commonwealth Government and 40% by the States and Territories.[4] This recommendation was made to address the most pressing needs whilst a more accurate assessment of future requirements can be conducted. Whilst discussion is required to determine the best distribution of funding across the service system, in keeping with current arrangements, at least 12% of this immediate injection must be provided to Community Legal Centres.

Accordingly, the National Association of Community Legal Centres’ campaign Community Law Australia – Fund Equal Justice calls for:

  1. Reversal of the Commonwealth funding cuts under the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance amounting to $34.83 million over the period 2017/18 to 2019/20;
  1. An immediate injection of $200 million per year into the broader legal assistance service system to 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 Community Legal Centres ($14.4 million p.a. Commonwealth and $9.6 million p.a. States and Territories).
  1. 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.

Open the link to view a PDF of the letter: Open letter to COAG 31 March 2016

[1] Productivity Commission Inquiry Report, Access to Justice Arrangements, No. 72, 5 September 2014

[2] Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence, Recommendation 69.

[3] Australian Government, Reform of the federation Discussion Paper (2015) p.5

[4] Productivity Commission Inquiry Report, Access to Justice Arrangements, No. 72, 5 September 2014

Media Roundup Fund Equal Justice Campaign 14-16 March 2016

 

Monday 14 March

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Launch of new campaign: Community Law Australia—Fund Equal Justice

Leading community lawyers from across Australia will meet in Canberra tomorrow to brief Members of Parliament and Senators about the work of Community Legal Centres (CLCs) and call for urgent action to help people missing out on legal help.

The new national campaign, Community Law Australia—Fund Equal Justice, is being led by the National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC). The campaign is being launched against the backdrop of rising demand for legal help, but funding cuts to crucial Community Legal Centre services.

“Community Legal Centres provide essential legal help to those in need. While family violence and family law are the top specialist areas for CLCs, we provide a range of legal help to people across a range of legal areas, including debt, employment, housing, social security, and child protection” said Rosslyn Monro, Campaign Spokesperson and NACLC Chairperson ahead of the launch.

“New figures released today from the NACLC 2015 Census reveal that CLCs are turning away more than 160,000 people each year. However, there is a looming 30% cut to national Community Legal Centre funding next year under the new National Partnership Agreement for Legal Assistance Services” said Ms Monro.

“In the context of a relatively small overall budget for CLCs, these funding cuts of between $11m and $12m every year between 2017 and 2020 will have a significant impact on CLC service delivery, and therefore on the ability of people seeking legal help to receive the help they need. For example, a 30% cut to Commonwealth funding nationally is likely to lead to 36,435 fewer clients assisted and 45, 644 fewer advices provided” added Ms Monro.

NACLC calls on the Federal Government to:

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

For further information or to arrange an interview contact:
Rosslyn Monro NACLC Chairperson, 0407 633 084
Amanda Alford, NACLC Director Policy and Advocacy, 0421 028 645