Open letter to Attorneys-General from the community legal sector: release the NLAP review report now

March 2024

Community legal sector peaks wrote to Commonwealth, State and Territory Attorneys-General asking that they publish the National Legal Assistance Partnership (NLAP) review report now to increase transparency around critical government decisions regarding the future of legal assistance services.

Instagram tile for open letter

13 March 2024

Dear Attorneys-General,

We are writing to ask that you publish the final report of the Independent Review of the National Legal Assistance Partnership (NLAP) as a matter of urgency.

We are very hopeful the final report will make recommendations about the need for increased funding for legal assistance services, including community legal centres, immediately via the May federal budget, and longer- term, via the next NLAP.

The community needs to see a Commonwealth Government commitment to long-term legal assistance funding security in the May 2024 federal budget. State and territory governments must also commit to ongoing support for legal assistance services. These important decisions about the future of legal assistance services funding must be informed by the review’s recommendations.

For community legal centres, it is crucial the 2024-25 federal budget includes a commitment to Commonwealth funding of the next NLAP in the forward estimates. Delays will push a community legal sector already in crisis over the edge, and it will be the people and communities most in need who will suffer the consequences.

Our sector’s structure, as a network of independent centres that enter individual funding contracts with governments, puts our sector at increased risk of service disruptions as we move from one NLAP to the next. This is due, in part, to some state and territory governments’ use of competitive tenders or other commissioning processes to distribute NLAP funding to community legal centres. These processes can take six months or more to complete.

If the Commonwealth Government does not make a commitment to ongoing NLAP funding in its May 2024 budget, by May 2025 centres will have barely a month’s funding remaining. They will have had no choice but to shed staff and close programs long before then. Centres in jurisdictions proposing tenders for NLAP funding will face a further six- to twelve-months of funding insecurity. If state and territory governments wait for the Commonwealth’s announcement before determining their own contribution to legal assistance funding, and to allocate both Commonwealth and state/territory funding to community legal centres via a single commissioning or allocation process, centres will be in an even worse position.

People experiencing disadvantage deserve to feel certain that the services they rely upon will continue to exist beyond July 1, 2025.

We also trust that the NLAP review report will make recommendations about changes to the next NLAP to improve access to justice for the people and communities we serve. These recommendations should be informing all government decisions relating to legal assistance, and all negotiations between governments. In the interests of transparency, the community needs to see these recommendations now.

Four states and territories will hold general elections between now and the end of this NLAP, and communities in all these jurisdictions are entitled to hear, as soon as possible, how parties intend to respond to the report. Bilateral agreements will be impacted by caretaker arrangements in these jurisdictions, and the emphasis needs to be on speedy and transparent collaboration between governments so that ongoing arrangements are in place well before the current NLAP expires. The decisions your governments make in response to the NLAP review’s findings and recommendations will impact people’s and communities’ access to justice and equality before the law, as well as the sustainability of community legal centre services and programs. Giving communities and the organisations they rely on early access to the information that will inform these decisions will increase transparency and build trust in governments’ processes.

Attorneys-General: you have a responsibility to ensure people and communities can continue to access the community legal centres that keep them safe and healthy. We ask you to commit to urgently publishing the NLAP review report so important decisions about the future of legal assistance funding and services are transparent and timely.

Yours sincerely

Community Legal Centres Australia
Community Legal Centres NSW
Federation of Community Legal Centres Victoria
Community Legal Centres Queensland
Community Legal Western Australia
Community Legal Centres Tasmania
Community Legal Centres South Australia
Northern Territory Community Legal Centres