We continue to be extremely concerned about cuts to funding for Community Legal Centres (CLCs) originally revealed during the 2015 Budget.
The Hume Riverina Community Legal Service is uniquely positioned as a cross-border community legal centre, providing free legal services to a vast catchment area of 21 Local Government Areas in North East Victoria and the Southern Riverina of NSW. In the 2013/14 year our 4 lawyers gave nearly 1800 advices, provided legal education to over 1300 people and provided intensive casework to more than 200 people. We are the only free legal service within a 2 hour radius in both states. The need is greater than we can currently meet.
The Productivity Commission Report released in December 2014 recommended that the Government urgently increase funding for legal assistance services (such as CLCs and Legal Aid) by $200million per year. This underfunding has an even greater impact in regional communities where disadvantaged people simply have no other option. Despite this, cuts of 28.7% to funding for CLCs are now expected next year (2017/18). This means that even more disadvantaged people in need of free legal help in North East Victoria and Southern Riverina NSW may miss out.
Community Legal Centres are campaigning under the hashtag #FundEqualJustice to raise awareness of the critically important work CLCs do but also the impact of these impending cuts on the most vulnerable.
For our community, these cuts may mean less free legal advice services in places such as Wangaratta, Benalla and Myrtleford in Victoria and Deniliquin, Finley, Henty, Holbrook and Corowa in NSW. We certainly won’t be in a position to expand our service and attempt to meet the growing need of our community.
We urge you to make contact with your local federal MP and let them know the impact that this will have. Please be assured of our ongoing desire to provide free legal advice and assistance to the people of our community, particularly to those who are vulnerable and disadvantaged in their access to justice.
Originally published 12 May 2016