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CLCs warn on cuts closures


Cite as: July 2015 89 (7) LIJ, p.14

Legal aid

Access to Australia’s justice system will be critically undermined if the federal government proceeds with plans to significantly reduce funding for legal assistance services over the forward estimates.

At a meeting of the Law, Crime and Community Safety Council (LCCSC), attorneys-general from around the country were asked to urgently commit more funding to legal assistance by the Law Council of Australia (LCA).

The LCA argued that despite the government reversing some of the planned cuts, the level of funding for legal assistance services has failed to keep pace with population growth and inflation.

LCA treasurer Fiona McLeod SC, said that on a recommended National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services the LCCSC should strive to reach agreement on a sustainable funding model.

“The level of unmet legal need in Australia is now overwhelming and the federal budget allocation is woefully inadequate,” Ms McLeod said.

“This is feeding directly into social problems like unemployment, homelessness, familial breakdown, crime and recidivism, placing pressure on legal assistance services and other service providers across the community.”

The Productivity Commission has called for an additional $200 million a year for national legal assistance services in civil matters.

“Winding back funding to community legal centres will drive civil matters to Legal Aid Commissions which are already under huge pressure to service the demand for assistance in criminal matters,” Ms McLeod said.

“The draft National Partnership Agreement also imposes unacceptably stringent performance benchmarks on legal assistance services, meaning failure to meet one of the benchmarks is almost inevitable and will jeopardise ongoing funding for the sector. This places an unacceptable level of uncertainty on legal assistance providers and the most vulnerable in our community.”

Community legal centre (CLC) representatives across Australia warned that some centres may have to close because of the cutbacks.

“CLCs are essential in delivering free legal help for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged members of our community and funding cuts will have a direct impact on frontline services and the ability of these people to get the legal assistance they need, which may ultimately cost lives,” said Liana Buchanan, executive officer of the Federation of Community Legal Centres in Victoria.


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