Media release: Community Legal Centres Australia welcomes NLAP report and calls on governments to respond swiftly to its recommendations

28 May 2024

Media release: Community Legal Centres Australia welcomes NLAP report and calls on governments to respond swiftly to its recommendations

Community Legal Centres Australia welcomes the release of the final report of the independent review of the National Legal Assistance Partnership (NLAP) agreement and calls on Commonwealth, state, and territory governments to respond swiftly and publicly to its recommendations.

Following the 2024 budget, the community legal sector is facing its worst level of funding insecurity in a decade. At the same time, increasing demand for assistance, chronic underfunding and a workforce crisis are forcing community legal centres to turn away a thousand people every day and contributing to high rates of vicarious trauma and burnout for workers.

As anticipated, the report finds that current funding levels are insufficient to meet the legal assistance needs of people and communities across the country, and broadly recommends:

  • Significant additional investment in legal assistance services by Commonwealth, state, and territory governments, to meet overwhelming and increasing unmet legal need
  • Comprehensive systemic reforms to:
    • deliver a sustainable service system, including the development of a national legal assistance workforce strategy and data strategy
    • embed the priority principles from the National Agreement on Closing the Gap in the next agreement.

The report made several recommendations that additional Commonwealth funding for community-based legal assistance services be provided via the May 2024 Federal Budget. The Commonwealth did not deliver on any of these in full, despite having had the report since March.

While all governments – Commonwealth, state and territory – have had the review for months, no joint statement from governments has been released to welcome the review. This represents a lost opportunity for governments to commit to the collaborative fixing of a justice system that is broken.

Quotes attributable to Community Legal Centres Australia CEO Tim Leach 

“This report is a vindication of everything the community legal sector has been telling governments for decades. It calls for significant and urgent investments in our sector to relieve chronic underfunding and workforce pressures. We are disappointed the recent Commonwealth budget did not deliver the investments recommended for 2024-25.”

“We’ve been saying for a long time that governments need to do more to deliver justice for communities across Australia. This report agrees, and it identifies many parts of the legal assistance sector that need to be better resourced.”

“Community legal centres have just thirteen months of funding remaining. Governments must now move fast to use the review report’s findings and recommendations to agree a new national agreement to fund legal assistance. This must be done by the end of 2024 and funding for our sector must be secured via MYEFO. If funding is left to the next budget in 2025, it will be too late for many centres. They will already be winding down programs, making staff redundant and, in some cases, closing.”

“Our sector makes a unique contribution to community wellbeing. The report’s findings and recommendations cannot be ignored and must not be swept under the rug. We call on governments to publish a joint response immediately, which clearly demonstrates how they intend to respond to and implement the review recommendations.”

“A 2014 Productivity Commission Report made important recommendations about fixing legal assistance, but the report was largely ignored. We need governments to tell us now how they will work to ensure that this review isn’t met with the same disappointing fate.”

“All governments must work in partnership with the legal assistance sector to create a robust implementation plan for the report’s recommendations to ensure access to justice for the people and communities across Australia who rely on our services.”