COMMUNITY LAWYERS ON FUNDING CRISIS: BUDGET WAS A DECENT START, BUT MORE NEEDS TO BE DONE

Written on the 25 May 2017 by Paris Faint

COMMUNITY LAWYERS ON FUNDING CRISIS: BUDGET WAS A DECENT START, BUT MORE NEEDS TO BE DONE While the Federal Budget may have reversed its initial plans to cut funding from community legal services nationwide, peak groups are saying more needs to be done to end the current justice funding crisis.

Organisations including the National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC) and the National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services Forum (NFVPLS) have welcomed a funding allocation of $39 million for community legal centres, but also say the short-term fix does not end the long-term problem.

Nassim Arrage, CEO of the NACLC says there is still some "uncertainty about the exact allocation" of the funding, however he welcomes the government's decision not to cut community funding by 30 per cent as initially proposed.

"We have worked hard over a long period of time to emphasise the vital services that CLCs provide and the devastating impact cuts would have the government has recognised this," said Arrage.

"The Budget addresses the immediate funding crisis for most CLCs, but there is more work to do.

"We are concerned about a number of measures in the Budget, including in relation to social security that will have a negative impact on the people our centres help, contribute to the stresses on people that lead to legal problems, and to increased demand for our services."

Arrage also says the NACLC is concerned with the government's lack of attention to the over-representation of Indigenous Australians in the justice system.

While the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (NATSILS) welcomes funding for Indigenous Australian legal services, the organisation says more is needed to ensure its permanence across the country.

"The Budget is a missed opportunity to invest in putting an end to family violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women," says Antoinette Braybrook, convenor of the National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services Forum.

"While we welcome the additional $9 million for family violence prevention legal services announced last year, we continue our calls for increased funding to ensure national coverage and long-term funding to create certainty for our services across the country.

"This would be a tangible commitment to ensuring safety for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, regardless of their geographical location."

Fiona McLeod, President of the Law Council of Australia, says the federal and family courts have been underfunded for years, which has created "damaging delays" and impeded access to justice.

"The new funding for family consultants, announced tonight, will help reduce delays to some extent, as these consultants play a crucial role in assisting the courts to properly assess the often complex facts and to make recommendations about parenting arrangements in the best
interests of children," says McLeod.

"However, the Law Council considers that $12.7 million to establish 'Parenting Management Hearings' would have been better applied to the courts. We will wait to see the details of the announcement, however at first glance it appears to raise significant constitutional and other issues."

McLeod says the Law Council will continue to work with the government to develop a sustainable long-term funding model for the federal courts.

Brisbane Legal

Author: Paris Faint
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