24 April 2017

This crisis must never happen again

NSW Law Society President Pauline Wright has welcomed the Federal Government's budget commitment to restore $55.7 million in funding to Community Legal Centres (CLCs) over the next three years.

The Federal Government's allocation of $39 million to Community Legal Centres and $16.7 million to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (ATSILS) adds to the NSW Government's $6 million rescue package for CLCs and will help to 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," NSW Law Society President Pauline Wright said.

"People in personal turmoil, including those facing family violence, people who find themselves in severe debt with no options for legal aid, and people confronting a crisis in housing turn to CLCs for help every day.

"ATSILS also provide 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 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.

The scheduled plans to cut funding in July would have sent shockwaves through the sector, she said.

"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.

Ms Wright said it was critical that the Federal Government adopt recommendations by the Productivity Commission in 2015 that guaranteed annual funding be injected into the sector.

"The Productivity Commission concluded that CLCs and ATSILS represented real value for money and recommended $200 million in recurrent funding be injected into the legal assistance sector," she said.

"Particular priority should be given to frontline services and advocacy work. At the same time, proper and adequate funding should be provided for the provision of Legal Aid."

Ms Wright said the federal government must ensure this funding crisis never happens again.

"We want assurances that appropriate federal funding will continue into the future," she said.

Media Contact: Marianna Papadakis 0413 440 669

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