Media release: Community legal centres facing national workforce crisis and at risk of imminent service shutdowns without urgent Commonwealth funding

15 January 2024

Community Legal Centres Australia has today sent letters to key Commonwealth Government Ministers requesting their support for several budget measures crucial to keeping community legal centres’ doors open amidst a workforce crisis that is threatening access to justice for people and communities across Australia.

In letters to members of the Expenditure Review Committee, Community Legal Centres Australia urged politicians to follow recommendations made in its 2024 pre-budget submission, including several targeted budget measures to address the unique funding challenges currently faced by community legal centres, and a significant funding increase to the entire legal assistance sector including at least a doubling of community legal centres funding in 2024-25 and over the forward estimates.

Community legal centres have a different governance model to other legal assistance providers – as a network of independent organisations that enter individual arrangements with governments – and are currently facing unique funding pressures including inflation and inadequate indexation, and low wages compared to government and private sector, which are driving a workforce crisis in the community legal sector. The Community Legal Centres Australia’s letters set out that unless several urgent measures are taken in the 2024 budget, community legal centres will be forced to close services and programs in 2025.

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

Funding legal assistance is an investment: research shows that every dollar invested into legal assistance leads to several dollars’ savings to people, communities, and governments. More importantly, community legal centres keep people in jobs and homes, and out of debt, hospitals, courts, and prisons. We support people to remove the legal barriers keeping them from living their best lives.”

“When community legal centres are unable to offer anything close to wage parity with other sectors, then workers, clients, and communities all suffer. We have heard stories of community legal centre jobs vacant for months while centres are forced to run half-staffed, of regional community lawyers resorting to sleeping in caravans or motels because of the low wages and regional rental crisis, and of crucial services and programs closing their doors entirely because they cannot afford to hire the staff they need to stay open – all of this harms the communities that our centres serve.”

“The Commonwealth Government has committed through its ‘Measuring What Matters’ statement to building healthy, secure, cohesive, and prosperous communities for everyone – but our sector has gone backwards on this government’s watch.”

“The Commonwealth must stand by its commitment with a significant increase to legal assistance funding (including at least a doubling of community legal centre funding) in 2024-25 and the forward estimates, so that people and communities who rely on us can have faith that they will be able to continue to access the crucial supports they need to live their best lives.”