The budget announced last night was the Albanese Government’s first opportunity to deliver on its pre-election commitment to increase investment in community legal centres and improve access to justice for people and communities experiencing disadvantage, discrimination, and domestic, family and sexual violence.
Community Legal Centres Australia welcomes important funding commitments for community legal centres.
$12m over four years for community legal centres supporting people affected by floods. Climate change continues to increase the frequency and intensity of disasters and we know that people experiencing disadvantage are the first and worst affected. Disasters like the catastrophic floods impacting Australia’s east coast right now, cause ongoing, complex, and compounding legal problems for people in areas such as tenancy, social security, insurance, debt, employment, and domestic and family violence. Timely access to high quality legal support from local, community-embedded organisations is critical to supporting people find safety, to recover and rebuild.
$9.8m over four years (and $2.6m per year ongoing) for Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) and Environmental Justice Australia (EJA). This reinstatement of Commonwealth funding will allow EDO and EJA to do their vital work using the law to protect Australia’s unique wildlife, places, and communities. EDO provides leadership to ensure Australia’s response to climate change is robust and in line with our international obligations. This funding will also allow EDO to continue its work protecting First Nations peoples’ land, water rights and cultural heritage. EJA has pioneered climate risk litigation globally, initiated parliamentary inquiries and has driven vital law and policy reforms to protect community. We applaud the reinstatement of Commonwealth funding for these important and effective organisations.
$2.4m over two years for Financial Rights Legal Centre’s Insurance Law Service. The Insurance Law Service assists thousands of people to understand complicated insurance products, navigate claims and resolve disputes, often during times of great distress. The rolling cycle of disasters over recent years has placed enormous pressure on this service and additional funding will ensure the Insurance Law Service is better able to meet community need for support with disaster insurance claims into the future.
$8.1m over four years to help community services funded by the Attorney-General’s Department to address budget shortfalls caused by inadequate indexation of funding contracts. Community legal centres are drastically underfunded and, on average, turn away 80 people seeking legal support every week. Over the past two years, our centres have faced mounting cost pressures due to rising inflation, wage increases, and increasing mandatory super contributions. Governments’ failures to provide adequate indexation on funding contracts means centres sustain effective budget cuts year on year. In the face of rising costs, this makes it even harder to meet demand. While we welcome this new funding pool, it is not yet clear how much will go to community legal centres. We particularly welcome the inclusion of our sector in the government’s indexation plans, as community legal centres have been traditionally overlooked. This is a good first step, but a more comprehensive and sustainable approach to indexation will be required.
$21.2m for National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) Appeals. Many community legal centres do NDIS appeals work. Our sector has been calling for increased funding for advocacy and legal representation for NDIS appeals. Decisions to remove support from NDIS participants mostly relate to core supports. This means NDIS participants are facing significant risks to their day-to-day health and safety. Without proper advocacy and legal support, participants who need to appeal these decisions are being forced to navigate on their own a process which is time-consuming, complex and legalistic. Community legal centres have been unable to respond to demand for help with NDIS appeals, but these new funds will mean more people with disability get the help they need.
$1m for four years for the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (NATSILS) and $3m for 3 years for the National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services (The Forum). As community-controlled peaks representing Aboriginal Legal Services and Family Violence Prevention Legal Services across the country, these organisations have been significantly under-resourced for decades. This is despite the huge social and legal problems, such as criminalisation, incarceration, and family violence, that First Nations people continue to experience at disproportionate rates due to the enduring impacts of colonisation. This funding will enable NATSILS and The Forum to support the delivery of high quality and culturally safe legal and related services to First Nations people and provide national representation in justice debates. While there is no increase to base funding for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (ATSILS) or Family Violence Prevention Legal Services (FVPLS), we do warmly welcome the $13.5 million committed for ATSILS to help families get legal assistance during coronial inquiries into the deaths of family members.
$8.4m over four years for the Australian Human Rights Commission to implement and enforce the Anti-Discrimination and Human Rights Legislation Amendment (Respect at Work) Bill. This will help with the effective implementation and enforcement of this new legislation, which will create safer workplaces for women across Australia.
$8.4m over three years to pilot specialised and trauma informed legal services for victim-survivors of sexual assault. This pilot will support victim-survivors throughout their entire engagement with the criminal justice system. Women’s legal services offer support that is trauma-informed and includes integrated social services that respond to the needs of victim-survivors of sexual violence. Funding for this pilot will also ensure perpetrators are held to account.
$12.6m over two years to continue the Temporary Visa Holders Experiencing Violence Pilot. This pilot provides vital legal assistance for women on temporary visas who are experiencing family violence. Women can find themselves trapped in violent relationships due to the restrictive conditions of their visas. This continuation of the pilot will provide a lifeline for many women who would otherwise be forced to stay in violent relationships.
While we welcome these budget announcements, there are some omissions which we hope will be addressed in the more comprehensive May 2023 budget. We are disappointed that the Budget does not make clear funding commitments for the National Plan to End Violence Against Women and their Children or the First Nations Safety Plan. Without committed resources and clear targets, we will not see the reduction in family violence that is desperately needed.
We recognise this budget is a mid-year budget update to deliver on the government’s election commitments and the government will now be turning its attention to the more comprehensive May 2023 budget. Given the economic and budget forecasts, the government has understandably encouraged a national conversation about how to pay for those things that Australians need and deserve. For starters, the government needs not to proceed with the unnecessary and unfair stage three tax cuts. This money would be better used to invest in, among other things, social spending measures that will improve access to justice for tens of thousands of people experiencing disadvantage in our community, including:
Raising the base rate of working age social security payments to at least $73 a day.
Increased funding for community legal centres, women’s legal services, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services and Family Violence Prevention Legal Services, to help meet legal need in our communities.
Adequate indexation on government funding contracts for social and community services, including community legal centres, so that they do not face a funding cut in real terms each year.
Investing in the community legal sector’s ability to help communities with the impacts of disasters, and to equip communities to be disaster ready.
Community Legal Centres Australia believes that everyone is entitled to justice, regardless of how much money they have.
The community legal sector is grossly underfunded, and we are disappointed that the budget does not include much needed funding to allow the sector to deliver services to those in need in our communities.
We know that around 80 people a week are turned away from community legal centres in each electorate. This budget does not contain a commitment or vision to improve access to justice in this country and only delivers temporary fixes, when we need long term solutions to the persistent problems of inequality and injustice.
Whilst we do welcome the following funding announcements, more clarity is needed around how this funding will be allocated before we can speak definitively about the impacts it may have:
$2.5 million over two years to support the Financial Rights Legal Centre’s National Insurance Law Service
A $25 million package which includes financial counselling services on the ground in flood affected areas NSW and QLD in addition to the $5.4 million previously announced in March 2022 for legal assistance for flood victims in NSW and Queensland – although it is not specified how this funding will be allocated.
$8.4 million over three years for a pilot of a new service delivery model to provide survivors of sexual assault with greater access to dedicated legal services – although it is not specified how this funding will be allocated.
A $10.5 million package over four years that includes funding for supporting financial counsellors – although again it is not clear how this will be allocated
We are disappointed that the Budget fails to deliver:
An additional $80 million core funding for community legal centres to be able to address unmet need
$1.5 million every four years for a national legal needs assessment to facilitate evidence-based planning and efficient allocation of resources
$20 million per year for legal assistance in disaster prevention as well as recovery
$25 million per year funding for wraparound support through an integrated services model
The desperately needed additional funding for Aboriginal legal and family violence prevention services; in fact, it delivers a cut in real terms to these frontline services.
Investing in community legal services not only improves the lives of those requiring legal help but provides significant cost savings to the economy through the positive flow on effects to wider society and ultimately, downstream cost savings for the federal government.
Community Legal Centres Australia encourages all political parties to set out their vision for addressing unmet legal need across Australia and to set out their plans for how they will support the community legal sector before the federal election in May 2022.
National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (NATSILS) budget media release
A government funding debacle has hurt the community legal sector across the country, forcing centres to close down and leaving vulnerable people in the lurch.
The Federal Government has announced that it intends to end funding to the National FVPLS Forum, which provides an essential voice for Aboriginal women and children who are survivors of family violence and sexual assault. Community Legal Centres Australia stands with other organisations calling for this funding to be reinstated.
We have been working with Women’s Legal Services Australia in trying to change the Attorney’s mind about his proposed merger of the Family Court with the Federal Circuit Court. Our combined media release and open letter to the Attorney-General is below.
While the Open Letter has been sent to the Attorney-General, we are continuing to accept co-signatories to the letter for further advocacy opportunities. To join us in this work and co-sign the letter, please send your name, position, organisation to Liz Snell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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