Media release: Community legal centres call on Attorneys-General to commit to community wellbeing

5 July 2024

Community legal centre peak bodies have issued an open letter ahead of today’s meeting of the Standing Council of Attorneys-General (SCAG) calling on all state, territory, and federal Attorneys-General to commit to finalising a new legal assistance agreement that delivers increased funding and long-term funding security to the community legal sector by the end of 2024.

The National Legal Assistance Partnership (NLAP) agreement between state, territory and Commonwealth governments which delivers legal assistance funding, expires on 30 June 2025. Governments have not yet committed to a process or a timeline for negotiating the next agreement.

The final report of an independent review of the NLAP, published in May, identifies a vast amount of unmet legal need in the community, and a funding and workforce crisis in the community legal sector. It recommends all governments contribute significant additional funding to community-based legal assistance under the next agreement.

Today’s SCAG meeting is the first since the release of the NLAP report, and governments have assured the community legal sector that the future of legal assistance will be on the agenda for discussion by the Attorneys-General.

Quotes attributable to Tim Leach, CEO, Community Legal Centres Australia:

“With less than 12 months’ funding security, community legal centres are in the most precarious position we’ve seen in a decade. With limited reserves, and no certainty about future funding arrangements, centres across the country are already making difficult decisions about which programs and outreaches to close, which areas of law to stop practising in, and when to close their books.”

“Community legal centres help hundreds of thousands of people a year to protect their everyday rights to housing, health, finances, and personal safety, and prevent people from ending up in jails and hospitals and on the streets.”

“Community legal centres play a frontline role supporting people to escape domestic and family violence: family law and family violence is the largest area of work across the over 160 organisations in our membership. It is this type of work that is put at risk when community legal centres do not have guaranteed ongoing funding.”

“The chronic under-funding of community legal centres is already forcing centres to turn away over a thousand people every day who need help. Further delays to delivering funding security to the community legal sector will directly impact the safety and wellbeing of people in crisis across Australia.”

“Now is the time for Commonwealth, state, and territory governments to step up. Attorneys-General need to give a guarantee, today, that the people who rely on community legal centres can continue to do so beyond 30 June 2025. This guarantee must be in the form of a commitment to a timely and transparent process to negotiate a new funding agreement that delivers increased funding and long-term funding security to the community legal sector by the end of 2024.”