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Federal Budget, Government Federal

Alert: APH report launch today on community legal sector crisis – Local services forced to turn away 1,000 people every day

Community Legal Centres Australia 4 mins read
Key findings of new report on community legal sector

Later today, Community Legal Centres Australia will launch its latest snapshot of the sector at Parliament House, revealing that local community legal services nationwide are being forced to turn away 1,000 people every day. 

The report, A sector in crisis, documents the overwhelming demand faced by legal assistance services, as well as the workforce crisis leading to many roles remaining vacant. Increasing demand due to factors including cost of living pressure, and low wages in the sector are driving the crisis. The report calls on the Federal Government to provide an urgent funding injection and long-term security in the May Federal Budget.

The report also captures the valuable work community legal services do, assisting hundreds of thousands of people across the country to manage issues with housing, employment, health, finances, and personal safety, and to better understand and exercise their legal rights. This keeps people safe and prevents them from ending up in jails and hospitals, and on the streets. 

Chronic under-funding over many years has pushed the sector to breaking point, with community legal services limiting programs, closing waiting lists, reducing outreach visits to remote communities, and even considering whether they can keep their doors open.

A sector in crisis draws on data from a national survey of 117 community legal centres from all states and territories, consultations with over 130 community legal workers across the country, and case studies gathered directly from sector.

The report uncovers some especially grim statistics on the impact of the community legal sector funding crisis for people and communities across the country.

  • Centres were forced to turn away 368,000 people seeking help in 2022-23, averaging a thousand people per day.
  • Nine out of ten centres experienced an increase in demand for their services in 2022-23 as compared to the previous year. None reported a reduction in demand.
  • Based on unmet need and current staffing levels, the community legal sector urgently needs to recruit 2,000 extra workers if it is to meet the community’s need for support.

The full report will be launched at 12.30pm Monday 25 March at Australian Parliament House.

Quotes attributable to Gerard Brody, Chairperson of Community Legal Centres Australia

"Centres have been telling us they are at breaking point for some time, but the findings of this report show the crisis is even worse than we had thought. People are missing out on the help they need to prevent problems getting worse and to make it through crisis. This report tells us that centres need on average an extra 12 full-time workers to meet demand from their communities – that’s 2,000 extra community legal sector workers nationally."

"Local legal services are being forced to limit programs, cut off waiting lists and some are struggling just to keep their doors open under the current funding arrangements. When communities lose their local legal services, it hurts everyone living and working in that community."

"Three-quarters of community legal centres struggle with recruitment, retention, or staff wellbeing. The primary driver behind resignations and recruitment hurdles is low wages. The significant pay gap with the public sector, ranging from 10% to 35%, needs to be addressed."

"The findings from 'A Sector in Crisis' are an alarm bell that should prompt decisive action from the Federal Government in the May budget. This is a chance to invest in an Australia where justice isn't determined by your bank balance."

Quotes attributable to Joanna Collins, CEO of Pilbara Community Legal Service

“The Pilbara is 506,000 square kilometres, with a population of approximately 62,000, of which 14% are Aboriginal. There is significant socioeconomic disadvantage, a lack of affordable housing and high rates of family violence, which drive high demand for legal assistance."

“Community legal centres in the regions are trusted by the community, and our integrated case management ensures the people we help experience long-lasting changes to their lives. Unfortunately, Mary’s case is not isolated. More people reach out to us for help than we can support because of our limited funding, so many in the community go without the help they need. Community legal centres need proper resourcing so that we can keep providing free legal and social services to people experiencing disadvantage, and this must be a government priority.”

"Mary is one example of the transformative impact community legal services have in their local communities: Mary is an Aboriginal woman who was referred to Pilbara Community Legal Service by the police following an extreme domestic violence incident. Mary was in her early 20s, was pregnant and had two children under five. Mary had a history of significant abuse at the hands of her partner and had tried to leave on several occasions, but she had nowhere to go. Child protection had become involved, and Mary was facing the prospect of her children being placed into care.

“A community lawyer helped Mary get a Violence Restraining Order and represented her in Care and Protection proceedings. Our Domestic Violence Advocate linked Mary up with housing support and helped her get on a priority housing waitlist, resulting in Mary getting a home. We coordinated other supports for Mary, with the Aboriginal medical service supporting her with the upcoming birth. With the Violence Restraining Order in place and Mary providing a safe home for her children, Child Protection closed the case. Mary later returned to the centre when she had a tenancy issue and continues to be supported by Pilbara Community Legal Service."

About us:

Community Legal Centres Australia represents 165 community legal services in every state and territory. This includes local neighbourhood legal services as well as specialist legal services focussed on specific areas of law. Community legal services are primarily funded through the Federal Government's National Legal Assistance Partnership (NLAP).

Contact details:

Daniel Scoullar - 0402 596 297 / 

Interviews available with representatives of community legal services at APH or in local areas.

Report launch: 12.30pm Monday 25 March 2024


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