Budget cuts threaten community legal services

FREE legal advice for regional and remote Australians will face reduction in outreach support if the federal government proceeds with proposed cuts to Community Legal Services (CLS), and the issue has become an election concern for those in the service.

Armidale-based North and North West Community Legal Service principal solicitor Terri King   confirmed they will be forced reduce Inverell’s legal aid.

“If the federal government proceeds with the proposed 30 per cent funding cut to Community Legal Centres next year, we will have to cut the free legal advice services we provide for the community,” Ms King said in an April statement.

Ms King asked communities to request incumbent Member for New England Barnaby Joyce work to reverse the cuts to be enacted from July 1, 2017.

A spokesperson for Mr Joyce replied North and Northwest Community Legal Centre funding was increased by $121,546 or 44.5 per cent since the Coalition took office.

“(The) Coalition government struck a landmark five-year National Partnership Agreement in 2015,  delivering $1.6 billion in Commonwealth funding to legal aid commissions, community legal centres and Indigenous legal assistance services which increases funding over the life of the agreement,” Mr Joyce’s spokesperson said.

We will have to cut the free legal advice services we provide for the community.

North and North West Legal Services principal solicitor Terri King

Community Law Australia spokesperson Dan Stubbs acknowledges CLS will receive some funding in the agreement, but sought to clarify how the funding would be dispersed.

“I understand what Barnaby is saying, that that five year agreement will result in an increase in money - the problem is that increase is split between different types of legal assistance services,” Mr Stubbs said.

“Mainly we’re talking about your big Legal Aid services, who do different things to Community Legal Centres (CLCs).”

He said a small amount would fund CLCs, though they would overall face cuts amounting to $34.83 million from July 1, 2017 to June 30, 202 as stated by the National Association of Community Legal Centres.

“It get a bit nuanced because of course most people don't realise there’s a difference between the two,” Mr Stubbs said. 

“You’ve got to be very poor, and only certain types of legal matters to get Legal Aid, but it’s a big part of the legal assistance sector.

“Community Legal Centres are small services doing things on the ground in communities, trying to really reduce people’s legal problems early through advice and support.”