IT has been one year since the Productivity Commission's Access to Justice Arrangements Report was released, and following significant government funding cuts, legal representatives from across the country are calling for immediate change.
Community Legal Centre (CLC) representatives are urging the government to take action and recognise the findings of the report, released on 3 December 2014, which suggest that people across the country are missing out on legal assistance.
The Commission recommended that Australian governments provide an immediate injection of $200 million per year to legal assistance services, with the Federal Government contributing approximately 60 per cent and State and Territory Governments contributing 40 per cent.
"It is extremely disappointing that the Federal Government has not formally responded to the Productivity Commission's Report," says Rosslyn Monro (pictured), chair of the National Association of Community Legal Centres.
"In fact, despite the very clear recommendations made by the Commission about the need for additional funding, CLCs are facing a funding cliff amounting to a 30 per cent cut nationally from 1 July 2017."
Executive director of the Queensland Association of Independent Legal Services, James Farrell, adds that the upcoming cuts will have a significant impact on the ability of CLCs to assist the most vulnerable and disadvantaged members of the community.
He says they will inevitably lead to essential legal services closing down in some communities.
Meanwhile, Liana Buchanan, executive officer of the Federation of Community Legal Centres in Victoria says the government needs to practice what it preaches.
"The Government has said it is committed to addressing family violence," says Buchanan.
"Yet, although it has provided pilot funding to a handful of CLCs to increase help for victims of violence, the Federal Government has scheduled massive 30 per cent cuts from 2017 - cuts that will limit our ability to help those who need it, and may have deadly consequences."
Alastair McEwin, executive director of Community Legal Centres NSW echoes these views.
"In the face of increasing demand for our services, including in the key areas of domestic violence and family law, there has never been a more important time to ensure adequate and secure funding of CLCs and other legal assistance providers," says McEwin.
Helen Creed, executive director, Community Legal Centres Association (WA) highlights that the Productivity Commission's Report provides a blueprint for reform of a range of key elements of the justice system.
"The Government's failure to respond is a missed opportunity to address the crisis facing courts, legal assistance services and the justice system more broadly," she says.
The representatives called on the Federal Government to respond to the Productivity Commission's Report and on all levels of government to reverse the 2017 cuts and commit the recommended additional funding to CLCs and the legal assistance sector.
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