A letter from the majority of state and territory attorneys-general has called on the Federal Government to better fund community legal centres.
The letter to Commonwealth Attorney-General George Brandis was signed by attorneys-general from the ACT, NSW, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland and Tasmania.
ACT Attorney-General Simon Corbell said Legal Aid and community legal centres have been dealt a major blow with figures showing Commonwealth funding will drastically drop from 2017/18.
“The Federal Government guaranteed funding to support the most vulnerable in our community but the budget has shown a limit to that support,” Mr Corbell said.
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“Despite recently reversing its 2013 decision to cut $25.5 million from the national legal assistance budget following pressure from state and territory attorneys-general, the Commonwealth will drastically reduce the total funding to community legal centres from 2017-18.
“Under the proposed new National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services, funding to Canberra Community Law and the Women’s Legal Centre will be cut by 30 percent in 2017-18.
“This cut of almost $300,000 will take annual funding to well below current levels and easily more than negates any of the proposed increases over the next two years.
“Each of these centres is also facing reduced income of approximately $30,000-$40,000 per year as a result of low interest rates.”
The letter to Senator Brandis states that: “Cuts of the magnitude forecast in the budget will severely impact upon access to these services. This is at odds with both the Productivity Commission’s recommendations in its report on Access to Justice Arrangements and the Commonwealth’s own commitments to tackle domestic violence and indigenous disadvantage.”
Additionally, the modest increases to funding for Legal Aid ACT of less than two percent per annum will not meet the budget pressures that Legal Aid ACT is experiencing. As costs of service delivery are increasing at a rate much higher than two percent per year, Commonwealth funding to Legal Aid ACT is effectively being reduced.
“This is a terrible blow to Canberra Community Law, the Women’s Legal Centre and Legal Aid ACT, who provide valuable assistance to the most disadvantaged members of our society,” Mr Corbell said.
(Simon Corbell media release)