Cuts to the 57 centres are part of a broader $43.1 million cut to legal assistance services — including the Environment Defenders Offices, Public Interest Advocacy Centre, Family Violence Prevention Legal Services and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Legal Services — announced in December 2013.
In addition, the Budget disclosed new cuts planned for community legal centres in 2017–18. This will see Commonwealth funding for community legal centres reduced by over 26 per cent between now and 2017–18. The cuts have occurred in the context of acknowledged unmet demand for legal help, a review of the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services and the current Productivity Commission Inquiry into Access to Justice Arrangements.
Attorney-General George Brandis has also signalled that, from next month, funding agreements with community legal centres will preclude the use of Commonwealth funds for law reform and policy work. Centres argue this is core work for community legal centres, enabling them to use their contact with thousands of clients weekly to identify unfair laws and policies and work to change them. The Attorney-General’s position on this issue is contrary to that of the Productivity Commission, which recently found law reform and policy to be an efficient, effective use of scarce legal assistance resources.
LIANA BUCHANAN is the executive officer of the Federation of Community Legal Centres.