Community Legal Centres Receive Funding Boost from Federal Government in 2017 Budget:
On 24 April 2017 the Coalition Government announced that it would reverse a planned reduction in funding cuts to community legal centres. The community legal services sector had been bracing itself for a 30% funding cut to commence on July 1 2017.
The proposed funding cuts would have seen the sector slash services and staff members. Many of the legal centres had already factored in the funding cuts by terminating services and staff.
In March, Law Council of Australia President, Fiona McLeod, said that although the crisis in legal assistance funding had been steadily worsening over two decades, the proposed funding cuts would have made the situation dire. She stated that in 2016 community legal centres had to turn away about 160,000 people seeking legal assistance and the funding cuts would lead to 36,000 fewer clients assisted and 46,000 fewer advices provided.
The changes announced by the federal government on 24 April 2017 will actually see the sector receive increased funding. The Government’s announced changes will in fact see the sector receive a funding boost of $55.7 million over the next three years and this includes $16.7 million for Indigenous legal services.
The New South Wales Community Legal Centres that will particularly benefit from the funding include the Women’s Legal Service NSW, Kingsford Legal Centre, Redfern Legal Centre, Immigration Advice & Rights Centre (IARC), Western Sydney CLC, Environmental Defender’s Office NSW (EDO NSW), Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), Illawarra Legal Centre, Elizabeth Evatt CLC in Katoomba, and Northern Rivers CLC.
Despite the funding increase, community legal service bodies have said that there is still much more to be done. On 10 May 2017 the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (NATSLIS), The National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services Forum (NFVPLS) and the National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC) responded to the federal budget and called for a long-term vision for the legal assistance sector that includes adequate, predictable and sustainable services.