The Attorney-General George Brandis confirmed this morning the government will increase spending on legal assistance by $56 million over three years; $39 million will go to community legal centres and $17 million to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services.
Brandis says the community legal sector will be asked to prioritise domestic and family violence in the outlay of the increased funds.
The funding will predominately help victims of domestic violence and indigenous Australians who were facing the reality of being unable to access legal advice and services due to a funding shortfall due to commence at the end of June.
The AG framed the announcement as a “funding boost” on ABC’s AM earlier today but political correspondent Louise Yaxley questioned that.
She asked if it was extra money or a reversal of the controversial cuts introduced by the government in May of 2015?
GEORGE BRANDIS: They’re getting $55.7 million over three years that they weren’t otherwise going to get.
LOUISE YAXLEY: But they were expecting a cut of around, for example, the community legal centres were expecting a cut of around the high 30s million. You’re putting that back in. So, is it the same amount that they end up with?
GEORGE BRANDIS: Let us concentrate on the fact that we are now investing, this Government is investing over the five-year period to 2020 $1.73 billion in access to justice, including additional money for the community legal sector, including additional money for Indigenous legal services providers.
Community legal centres were expecting to face a 30% shortfall in funding from July of this year as a result of the 2015 budget.
It was extraordinarily unpopular and not just among those who work in the community legal sector. The effective reduction in funding sat at odds with any claim by the government that it was committed to fighting domestic violence.
After the May 2015 budget, six of the state and territory attorneys wrote to the Attorney-General to “reconsider cuts that will impact the most vulnerable members of our community”.
Two years later, Brandis has done so.
“[The] additional funding will mean that at the 30th of June this year, when the community legal sector was concerned that there would be a shortfall of funding, there will be no shortfall,” he told ABC. “[They] have been waiting and hoping that the Government would see their point of view and we have done that and delivered for them.”
It is a victory for CLCs who fulfil a critical service to some of Australia’s most vulnerable people. It’s hard not to think about the lost time, money and energy that went into achieving it.