Community Legal Centres Australia has written to Federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus KC and Expenditure Review Committee ministers seeking urgent additional investment of at least $125 million nationally to prevent the current funding crisis for 164 local legal services from worsening further.
Community Legal Centres Australia has released its 2024/25 Federal Budget Submission and sought meetings with the Attorney-General, Treasurer Jim Chalmers, and Finance Minister Katy Gallagher to discuss how urgent action can reduce the number of people being turned away and prevent services from cutting programs and, in some cases, closing their doors.
A new analysis has revealed that community legal centres are being forced to turn away over 200,000 people each year across the country.
Chronic underfunding by successive federal governments has pushed legal services to the brink of closure and driven poor pay and conditions for frontline staff. Stories of community workers living in caravan parks and their cars have been reported in the past six months, revealing how bad things have become in some parts of the country.
Community legal centres provide free legal assistance for people on low incomes, including those experiencing homelessness, mental health issues, refugees and asylum seekers, First Nations people, victim-survivors of family violence, parents resolving family law matters, LGBTIQ+ people, victims of floods and bushfires, people experiencing harassment or exploitation at work, public and community housing tenants, low-income renters, people who need financial counselling, and many others.
Community Legal Centres Australia Chairperson Gerard Brody said the National Legal Assistance Partnership (NLAP) Review would likely echo the message the sector has been sending to successive federal governments for over a decade.
“The NLAP Review is due later this month, but we already know everything we need to know about the crisis for community legal services across Australia. New investment of $125 million is needed in the 2024 Federal Budget."
"Without action, we will keep seeing hundreds of thousands of people missing out on the help they need to prevent problems and get through crisis situations."
"Community legal services are a critical part of the legal and social safety net that keeps people safe, healthy and connected to their communities."
“Without Australia's 164 community legal services, there would be more people in prisons, hospitals and sinking deeper into crisis."
"This means women and children stuck in dangerous situations, people losing their homes, households overwhelmed by debt and financial problems, families unable to resolve the custody and conflict, asylum seekers facing exploitation, and people left in the dark about their legal rights. When community legal services are overwhelmed and underfunded it means things get worse instead of better and people can’t live the lives they want for themselves and their families.”
“We are asking the Federal Government to invest in a community where access to justice is based on legal need rather than your bank balance.”
Community Legal Centres Australia is the national representative voice for the community legal sector. We are an independent, non-profit organisation set up to support the community legal sector to provide high-quality free and accessible legal and related services to everyday people, especially people experiencing financial hardship, discrimination and/or some other form of disadvantage, or who are experiencing domestic or family violence. See www.clcs.org.au for more information.
Note: Interviews and case studies are available from local community legal centres in metropolitan and regional areas across all states and territories. Community Legal Centres Australia's 2024/25 Federal Budget Submission is also available.
Media contact: Daniel Scoullar - 0402 596 297 / firstname.lastname@example.org