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CLC funding highs and lows

Briefs

Cite as: September 2012 86 (09) LIJ, p.14.

The Goulburn Valley Community Legal Centre has received the welcome news that Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) will fund an expanded service until 2014.

The community legal centre (CLC) began as a pilot program in 2009 and has demonstrated its value by providing free legal advice and community legal education to over 400 people with a myriad of legal issues, from migration to tax to family violence issues.

The funding of $200,000 per year for each of the next two years allows the centre to expand its operations and employ additional staff.

The nearby Loddon Campaspe CLC and UnitingCare had run a long campaign to secure funding.

Loddon Campaspe CLC coordinator Peter Noble said the funding would help focus attention on the significant “unmet legal needs of the region”.

“In a time of financial austerity this investment demonstrates real leadership by VLA and government to invest in services that target need and have shown their value . . . it is a massive boost,” he said.

VLA civil justice, access and equity director Kristen Hilton said the organisation had recognised people living in regional communities faced unique challenges in getting legal assistance.

“CLC work is essential to assisting disadvantaged individuals to access the justice system and achieve fair outcomes,” she said.

In the 2012-13 financial year, VLA will administer nearly $20 million in state and federal grants to CLCs across Victoria.

However, a report released on 16 July found half a million Australians each year were missing out on essential legal assistance.

The Community Law Australia (CLA) report “Unaffordable and out of reach: The problem of access to the Australian legal system” (http://tinyurl.com/cooc7ld), found the crisis was being caused by the general high cost of legal fees and “chronic government underfunding” of free legal services, such as CLCs.

CLA spokesperson Hugh de Kretser said people simply did not budget for legal fees for issues such as marriage breakdown, unfair dismissal, eviction, discrimination and debt-related problems. “Most Australians would find it difficult to pay for a lawyer for anything but the most basic legal issue,” he said.

He said 490,000 Australians each year could not afford a private lawyer and did not qualify for legal aid funding and that CLCs across the country were, in the main, under extreme pressure and unable to cope with current demand.

“We cannot ignore this crisis any longer and we need a major investment from government (or) people in need of legal help will continue to fall through the cracks.

“Many communities do not have access to a CLC at all.”

The report also found that 3 per cent of all survey respondents, including migrants, stated that they avoided seeking legal advice due to a lack of understanding about the legal system.

To read a personal story of the problems of migrants finding appropriate legal advice, read (“Taking the law into her own hands”) page 32.

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