Open letter to Attorneys-General from the community legal sector

July 2024

Commit to a timely and transparent process to deliver a finalised legal assistance funding agreement by the end of 2024. Give our communities certainty that they can continue to access the community legal centres they rely on to stay safe and well.

2 July 2024 

Dear Attorneys-General, 

At the 5 July meeting of the Standing Council of Attorneys-General we ask you to commit to a timely and transparent negotiation process for the next legal assistance funding agreement that delivers a finalised agreement by the end of the 2024 calendar year.  

Community legal centres are independent organisations that have individual funding contracts with governments. They typically apply all their funding to delivering services for people and communities in need, do not have significant reserves, and have limited capacity to roll over funding from one year to the next.  

The failure of the May Federal Budget and subsequent state budgets to provide forward estimates funding security for our sector means centres are counting down the months until their funding runs out in June 2025. 

Finalising an agreement, including agreement on Commonwealth, state, and territory funding contributions, by the end of the 2024 calendar year, will give centres sufficient certainty to sign leases, extend employment contracts, recruit staff, and plan for ongoing service delivery. It will give states and territories time to undertake and finalise funding allocations and offer contracts at least three months prior to 30 June 2025. Most importantly, it will minimise service disruptions for people and communities in desperate need of legal help. 

The lack of funding security for community legal centres is a crisis. With funding guaranteed only until 30 June 2025, 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. Every day that passes without a guarantee of funding beyond June 2025 forces more centres to waste time and energy on closure planning – time better spent supporting people and communities.  

People experiencing poverty and disadvantage deserve to feel certain that the services they rely on to stay safe and well will continue to exist and can expand beyond July 1, 2025.  

Three states and territories, and the Commonwealth, will hold general elections between now and June 2025, complicating an already challenging negotiation process. It is critical the negotiations are conducted openly, in good faith, and are concluded well before the current agreement expires. 

The independent review of the National Legal Assistance Partnership identified a vast amount of unmet legal need in this country, and a scale of under-resourcing of legal assistance so great that it is clear all governments must contribute to a solution. Governments’ silence in response to the review is deafening. Further delays to addressing the crisis 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: we are calling on you to urgently commit to collaborative action and funding. 

Attorneys-General, your collective responsibility is clear. It is now over to you to deliver.