(image via Robina Community Legal Centre)
Community legal services across Australia are breathing a sigh of relief after the Federal Government announced a reversal of previously planned funding cuts.
Under new funding arrangements commencing on July 1, the government was set to effectively withdraw $35 million from the sector.
In a joint statement with employment minister Michaela Cash and indigenous affairs minister Nigel Scullion, however, Attorney General George Brandis is now promising $55.7 million in extra funding in next month’s budget.
Around $39 million of the new funding will go toward community legal centres whilst $16.7 million will go toward indigenous legal services under a national partnership agreement to be finalised with the states and territories
In their statement, the ministers said the importance of CLCs cannot be underestimated.
“The government has always recognised the essential role of the legal assistance sector in providing access to justice for the most vulnerable Australians,” the statement read, adding that the new commitment had been delivered in spite of funding pressures.
Offering free advice on issues such as family violence, welfare, employment and tenancy to those unable to afford the cost of legal services throughout around 190 locations in Australia, community legal centres have been forced to turn away thousands of vulnerable clients over recent years as funding has failed to keep pace with demand.
In 2014, the Productivity Commission called for the sector to receive at least $200 million per year in additional funding.
Prior to the latest reversal, many CLC’s were facing the prospect of cuts to the magnitude of 30 percent, which many say would have seen them forced to slash headcount and turn away more clients.
The government’s move to restore funding followed intense pressure from opposition parties.
Last month, the Senate passed a motion condemning the cuts and calling upon the government to reconsider.