Transcript from Caxton Legal Centre, South Brisbane.
THE HON MARK DREYFUS QC MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR NATIONAL SECURITY
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
TERRI BUTLER MP
SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR PREVENTING FAMILY VIOLENCE
SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR UNIVERSITIES
SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR EQUALITY
MEMBER FOR GRIFFITH
CAXTON LEGAL CENTRE
MONDAY, 13 MARCH 2017
SUBJECT/S: Turnbull Government cuts to community legal centres, Brandis Diary
SCOTT MCDOUGALL (DIRECTOR, CAXTON LEGAL CENTRE): Good morning everyone. My name is Scott McDougall. I’m the Director of Caxton Legal Centre. I’m very pleased to have with us today the Shadow Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, and our local Member of Parliament, Terri Butler. We’re here today to talk about the savage funding cuts that are coming on the first of July 2017 that are going to impact heavily on Caxton’s clients. Caxton is looking at about a $500,000 funding cut which is about 15% of our total funding. I don’t need to tell you what sort of impact that is going to have on our ability to service clients across a wide range of areas, including those who fall victim to developers. So it’s going to impact on our clients in employment law, family law, child protection, and countless other areas of law, where every day people walk into this centre seeking advice from our lawyers and volunteer lawyers. It’s going to impact on our ability to leverage off the work of our hundreds of volunteers, who give up their valuable time because they believe in providing access to justice to people in need. So without any further ado I will introduce you to Terri to take over from here.
TERRI BUTLER MP: Thanks very much Scott, and thanks for having us at Caxton as well. It’s a really wonderful community legal centre and it’s here in my electorate of Griffith, here in South Brisbane which is fantastic. As well as being the local Federal Member here, I’m also the Shadow Assistant Minister to the Leader on family violence prevention and so I’m particularly concerned to see that this is a service where the largest source of requests for advice and legal assistance is from people seeking help in relation to family and domestic violence. This is a situation where people come to this legal service to get help with family and domestic violence, not just in relation to domestic violence orders; but also with family law; with tenancy issues; with credit and debt issues and all of the things that go along with being someone who is a victim or survivor of family and domestic violence. The idea that there is going to be a massive funding cut to this legal service and so many other legal services around the country, that actually provide a service to women and children who are fleeing domestic violence, is very, very concerning to me and I’m very, very worried that the government is not paying sufficient attention to the effect on victims and survivors of these proposed, imminent cuts to community legal services. Thanks very much everyone and now Mark Dreyfus is going to talk to you (inaudible).
MARK DREYFUS QC MP: Thanks very much Terri and thank you also to Scott McDougall for welcoming Terri and me to Caxton Legal Service. This centre, like approximately 130 other community legal centres across Australia, is about to experience on the first of July this year a devastating cut in the funding that it receives from the Commonwealth. As Scott has already explained the effect of that cut will be that solicitors, in numbers, will no longer be able to be employed. It may lead to the loss entirely of the excellent employment law service conducted at this centre and as Terri has explained it’s going to definitely lead to a loss of the services provided to the biggest single source of requests for help, which is from survivors of family violence. Right across Australia, because of these cuts, there are going to be less legal services provided. This is the kind of legal centre that makes the law accessible. By making the law accessible, we provide better justice to people across Australia. We’re calling on the Federal Government to reverse these cuts to make sure that in the budget that’s about to be handed down in May, these cuts are not continued with. We’ve already been successful back in 2015 in opposing these cuts. I’m hoping that this time, again, the Federal Government listens and pays attention to the extraordinarily fine and difficult work that is done in Community Legal Centres around Australia and make sure that they are able to continue providing those services. Thanks very much.
JOURNALIST: Have you reached out to the Federal Government prior to today in an effort to get them to reverse these cuts or is this the first time you’re calling on them to reverse these cuts?
DREYFUS: On the contrary we’ve been calling on the government for many months, as has the National Association of Community Legal Centres and individual community legal centres right across Australia - calling for these cuts to be reversed. I know that many community legal centres have approached their Federal Members of Parliament. Most Federal Members of Parliament would be aware of the fine work that’s done by community legal centres in their electorates and no this is not the first time we’ve called for these cuts to be reversed. It’s a continuation of what is now a very long campaign. We already called, successfully, in 2015 for these cuts not to be proceeded with and again we say these cuts should not be proceeded with.
JOURNALIST: Do you think though it will be successful this time? The government seems committed.
DREYFUS: Well that’s a matter for the government, but I don’t think the government is wanting for evidence. The Productivity Commission in a very helpful report, back in 2015, explained to the government that the community gets $17 back in benefit for every dollar that is invested in community legal centres. If you’re wanting to have evidence based policy, that tells you something, but if you’re wanting to have; just listen to all the stories that are told in these community legal centres about the work that they do about the people that they are able to assist, that should tell you something as well. So I’m optimistic that the government is going to listen, is going to make sure that community legal centres are able to continue to do this work. Because it’s not as if we we’re not dealing with rising demand, particularly in the family violence area as Terri has said, we are dealing with rising demand this is not a time to be cutting the Commonwealth funding to Community Legal Centres.
JOURNALIST: How would you find the funding for community legal centres?
DREYFUS: We would find the funding by looking for savings possibly in other areas of government but I don’t think we need to say in every single occasion what is the particular source of the funding. We will be looking to make appropriate savings right across government, were we to be in government. That’s why we went to the last election with a balanced set of policies which were matched by savings from other areas.
JOURNALIST: So would you commit to reinstating this money if you were re-elected?
DREYFUS: We went to the last election committed to increasing the amounts of money available to community legal centres it was particularly tied to a family violence related funding package. And I’d have to say it’s a bit disappointing that although the Federal Government has announced what is described as additional funding related to family violence, very little of that funding has found its way to community legal centres. By contrast we said and identified the amounts of additional money that we were going to provide to each and every community legal centre in Australia that is funded by the Commonwealth.
JOURNALIST: You said you would find savings in other areas, what areas in particular?
DREYFUS: Well, I think you’re asking us to devise a Federal Budget. I’m not going to identify particular savings. I’m going to say that just as at the last election we took a package of savings that matched our funding commitments, so too when Labor returns to government we will be matching our funding commitments with savings found in other areas of government.
JOURNALIST: You’re trying to push contempt of court proceedings against the Attorney-General George Brandis, why are you so intent on accessing the contents of his Ministerial diary?
DREYFUS: The initial impetus for this diary request, the access under Freedom of Information to eight months of George Brandis’s diary, the first eight months that he was Attorney-General was simply to see how he was spending his days. Because it was apparent that he certainly wasn’t meeting with community legal centres, he certainly wasn’t meeting with the Environment Defenders Office before he cut their funding; he certainly wasn’t meeting with (inaudible). To get a sense of just how it was that the Attorney- General was filling his days. Since then, because of George Brandis’s stubborn refusal to even process the request it’s actually become a point of principle because this is the Minister who was responsible for administering the Freedom of Information Act. This is the Minister who is meant to be setting an example to the rest of the government as to how access to information is to be managed in Australia. Thus far he’s wasted tens of thousands of dollars of taxpayer’s money, forcing an appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, and then when he lost there, taking the matter ridiculously before three judges of the full Federal Court where his appeal was dismissed. That was six months ago. So we are now at the stage, three years on since I first made this request the Attorney-General has not even processed the request let alone claims the exemptions and we are going to take him back if we don’t get, within the next five days a sensible response from him. I’ve said we are going to go back to the full Federal Court for appropriate orders.
JOURNALIST: His office says it’s just taking a long time to process, do you accept that?
DREYFUS: Not at all. He claimed back in 2014 that it was going to take a long time to process. The Administrative Appeals Tribunal rejected that out of hand, saying that the Attorney-General had used grossly exaggerated estimates of the time it would take. I say it again, he appealed to the full Federal Court, and the full Federal Court rejected his proposition that it was going to take a long time. So times up George Brandis you’ve had six months, you’ve had actually three years, but you’ve had six months since the Full Federal Court rejected the appeal. It’s long past time the Attorney-General, who is responsible for Freedom of Information, actually started complying with the act himself.
JOURNALIST: Why should the public care about this issue, how does it affect the average person on the street?
DREYFUS: Well the public should care about Freedom of Information because it’s one of those measures which achieves accountability in government. One of the ways we hold governments accountable is by making the activities of government transparent. It’s by making it possible for citizens to obtain information about decisions that the government is making; about policies the government is forming; or in this case about how Cabinet Ministers spend their days and when asking for the contents of these meetings I’m not asking for documents associated with these meetings I just want headlines in his diary as to who he met with. If it’s good enough for President Obama to explain who he’s been meeting with as President of the United States; if it’s good enough for Julia Gillard as Prime Minister of Australia to give out her appointments diary, it’s certainly good enough for the Commonwealth Attorney-General to, under Freedom of Information, when requested give over his diary so that we can see how he spends his days. I do think this affects the average person in the community because I think accountability in government affects the average person in the community. Thanks very much.