Vulnerable Australians Left In The Cold

Twelve million dollars a year will be slashed from vital legal assistance services for vulnerable Australians as part of an Abbott Government budget designed to secure its short-term political future.

 

THE HON MARK DREYFUS QC MP

SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL

SHADOW MINISTER FOR THE ARTS

MEMBER FOR ISAACS

 

MEDIA RELEASE

 

VULNERABLE AUSTRALIANS LEFT IN THE COLD

 

Twelve million dollars a year will be slashed from vital legal assistance services for vulnerable Australians as part of an Abbott Government budget designed to secure its short-term political future.

The budget papers reveal that Senator Brandis will reinstate his savage cuts to community legal services from 2017-18 – just after the next election.

These are services on the frontline in helping vulnerable Australians, like victims of family violence and indigenous people. They require long-term funding certainty to effectively operate.

The fact is this Budget was a short-term fix to secure the Prime Minister’s job – and this funding uncertainty reflects that.

The Abbott Government has completely ignored the recommendations of the Productivity Commission to inject $200 million per year for legal assistance services.  The Government has also ignored the pleas of Liberal Party Attorneys-General in NSW, Tasmania, WA and the Northern Territory who warned Senator Brandis earlier this year that his cuts to legal assistance funding would harm the most vulnerable members of our community, including women and children escaping domestic violence and indigenous Australians (see attached letter).

“There is no new money for community legal centres or long-term funding required for them to properly plan and keep talented lawyers,” said Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus QC.

“The Government responded to community outrage earlier this year by belatedly putting back in place funding that Labor gave to CLCs. But that is only for two years until after the next election when they will slash again.

“Senator Brandis should not be crowing about maintaining the funding for two years. We have rising imprisonment rates for indigenous people due to mandatory detention and harsher laws, particularly in the Northern Territory.

“As Australian of the Year Rosie Batty made clear this week it is vitally important that we provide more support to CLCs, family violence legal centres and legal aid commissions.”

To make matters worse, the Abbott Government has left only six weeks to “negotiate" new funding arrangements with States and Territories. This has created debilitating uncertainty in the legal assistance sector.

There is still no detail or clarity about the funding formula in the proposed agreement and how money will be allocated by States and Territories.

However, under the arrangements, it appears some community legal services in South Australia, Northern Territory and Tasmania will face immediate funding cuts.

“There is no long term plan for access to justice. This is chaos,” Mr Dreyfus said.

“This government’s approach to legal assistance is a mix of ad hoc measures, back-flips and a short-term scramble to stay in power.”

This is not a government that is interested in securing access to justice. Just securing its political future.

 

THURSDAY 14 MAY 2015