Ordinary Australians need better access to legal advice

Community Law Australia renewed calls for better funding for legal centres that tackle tenancy, debt, family violence, employment, and other issues, as their National Conference of Community Legal Centres kicks off in Adelaide this week.

South Australian Attorney General John Rau opened the conference last night.

Community Law Australia will be meeting with Attorney General Nicola Roxon today, who is also delivering a speech to the conference, to discuss the campaign and the strong evidence that access to justice is a major problem around the country.

Community legal centres provide valuable free legal assistance to the community, for those who do not qualify for legal aid, and yet cannot afford a private lawyer.

Demand for services is a major issue, with 73 per cent of CLCs reporting turnaway rates in a recent ACOSS survey. Nearly all centres rely on the help of volunteers in order to meet client demand.

Over 400 CLC representatives will be at the conference, putting forward their vision for better access to quality free legal help and to address the problem of people missing out on their rights.

They will have the chance to seek answers from all sides of politics about their plans to address the problem of access to justice in Australia, with Liberal Senator for the ACT Gary Humphries and Greens Senator for SA Penny Wright presenting at the conference on Friday.

Campaign Spokesperson Hugh de Kretser said that the National Conference in Adelaide was a chance for CLCs to speak out about the discrepancy of funding with the level of demand for their free legal assistance and representation.

“Unless governments of all levels act to increase funding to community legal centres, more and more people will miss out on access to quality free legal help,” said Mr de Kretser.

“There are high levels of unmet demand especially around vital issues like family violence and employment, and our centres are depending on huge amounts of pro bono and volunteer assistance in order to meet client demand.

“The problems that clients present with can be everyday issues – a dodgy landlord, a family breakdown, debts from avaricious lenders, unfair dismissal – but receiving quality legal advice early can make all the difference.

“Until we establish a legal safety net, Australians will continue to miss out when it comes to their legal rights.

“The Australia Institute conservatively estimates that half a million Australians miss out on legal help each year.

“Every Australian deserves access to legal help, regardless of their income or social situation, which is why we are calling on governments of all levels to address the lack of access to legal help,” said Mr de Kretser.