Federal Member for Robertson, Ms Lucy Wicks, said she welcomed the further injection of funding by the Coalition Government to the legal assistance sector as part of the 2017-18 Budget.
The Turnbull Government will provide a further $55.7 million, over the next three years, to Community Legal Centres (CLS) ($39 million) and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (ATSIL) ($16.7 million).
“$1.73 billion is now going to Legal Aid Commissions, Community Legal Centres and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services over five years to 2020, which is more than ever before,” Ms Wicks said.
Ms Wicks said the additional funding to Community Legal Centres would be directed to frontline family law and family violence services.
“This is the latest in a series of commitments made by this government to support the work of the legal assistance sector and women and children affected by family violence.
“As the national conversation on domestic and family violence continues, more people are coming forward to seek a range of assistance measures and the Turnbull Government has listened and responded,” Ms Wicks said.
The funding announcement builds on the Turnbull Government’s existing additional investment of $45 million for frontline legal assistance and family law services as part of the $100 million Women’s Safety Package and $100 Million Third Action Plan.
The funding allocation will be finalised with the states and territories under the National Partnership Agreement.
In addition, Ms Wicks said the government is providing $16.7 million over the next three years to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services.
“The Government is committed to achieving real and positive change in the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, including by providing culturally appropriate access to justice,” Ms Wicks concluded.
Gosford solicitor and current NSW Law Society President, Ms Pauline Wright, welcomed the Federal Government’s budget commitment.
Ms Wright said the commitment would help address chronic funding shortfalls that have plunged the sector into crisis.
“CLCs are the go–to emergency legal service for people who cannot otherwise access or afford help,” Ms Wright said.
“People in personal turmoil, including those facing family violence, people who find themselves in severe debt with no options other than for legal aid, and people confronting a crisis in housing, turn to CLCs for help every day.
“ATSILS also provides vital frontline services to some of the most vulnerable members of our community.
“It is a first port of call for crisis advice for people living in remote or regional areas who otherwise have nowhere else to turn.”
Ms Wright said that while CLCs helped hundreds of thousands of people every year, chronic underfunding forced them to turn away 34,000 disadvantaged and vulnerable people in NSW last financial year, leading to further unmanageable pressures on already under-funded courts and police.
According to Ms Wright, the scheduled plans to cut funding in July would have sent shockwaves through the sector.
“The Federal Government’s previous plans to slash millions of dollars from CLCs would have amounted to a 30 per cent shortfall, resulting in job losses and thousands more desperate people being left without legal advice,” Ms Wright said.
In a media statement, NSW Senator, Deborah O’Neill, joined the Central Coast Community Legal Centre in noting the government’s “long overdue” decision to end the “devastating cuts” planned for July 1.
According to Sen O’Neill, the government had committed to cut Central Coast Legal Centre’s funding by 30 per cent, which would have decimated legal advice services for some of the Central Coast’s most vulnerable residents.
The government announced its decision to reverse these cuts in late April.
“For the past three years this government has held these services to ransom” Sen O’Neill said.
“Shadow Attorney General, Mr Mark Dreyfus, and community legal centres across the country, have been crying out for these cuts to be reversed since their inception.
“This government has come back with its tail between its legs,” Sen O’Neill said.
According to Sen O’Neill, this funding announcement also carries a high degree of uncertainty, because it is reliant on ratification by states and territories under the National Partnership Agreement.
“This funding is still not set in stone,” Sen O’Neill said.
Media release, Apr 24
Tim Sowden, office of Lucy Wicks MP
Media release, Apr 28
Marianna Papadakis, Law Society of New South Wales
Media statement, May 3
Rhys Zorro, office of Deborah O’Neill
Dilon Luke, Journalist