Legal cuts deepen disadvantage
For a second time, attorneys-general from across the country have petitioned the Federal Government over funding cuts to legal aid and community legal services.
Last week’s Federal budget revealed funding for the vital services will drop drastically from 2017-18.
This prompted the attorneys-general from the ACT, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland and Tasmania to write to their federal counterpart, Senator George Brandis, arguing that the new funding arrangement would leave thousands with no useful legal avenues.
“The forecast cuts represent an abrogation of the Commonwealth Government's responsibilities to this important area of service delivery to some of the most vulnerable in our community,” the letter states.
It is the second time such a letter has been written by the leaders of the state-level legal communities.
Earlier this year, all eight attorneys-general wrote to Senator Brandis after he first announced cuts to legal services. They wanted the cuts reversed, and a guarantee of no further funding reductions to Legal Aid Commission, Community Legal Centres, and the Aboriginal Legal Service.
At the time, Senator Brandis said the Government had listened, and would take a more “nuanced approach” to funding after reinstating $25.5 million worth of support to the sector over two years.
In their second letter, the state and territory attorneys-general say the ‘nuanced’ approach is making things worse.
The “Commonwealth's decision to quarantine a percentage of its community legal centre funding,” would make the impact of the reduction even worse, they said.
“In the case of some jurisdictions, a majority of funds have been quarantined so as to ensure centres that were the subject of your announcement of 26 March 2015 have their current levels of funding guaranteed for 2015-16 and 2016-17,” the letter says.
“This has totally undermined the ability of state and territory governments to allocate Commonwealth legal assistance funding according to need and has placed at risk the viability of a number of community legal centres across the country.”
The attorneys-general say the cuts are “at odds with both the Productivity Commission's recommendations in its report on Access to Justice Arrangements and the Commonwealth's own commitments to tackle domestic violence and Indigenous disadvantage”.