A-G told of legal funding deficit

Updated November 7 2012 - 2:35am, first published June 10 2009 - 12:15pm
TALKS: President of the Bendigo Law Association Megan Aumair, Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland and lawyer John McPherson.
TALKS: President of the Bendigo Law Association Megan Aumair, Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland and lawyer John McPherson.

LEGAL assistance to the community’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged is routinely being halted, as the region’s top community legal centre struggles to work under stringent and capped Government funding.Members of Bendigo’s legal fraternity met Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland yesterday to voice concerns about the level of funding available to community legal centres.The Loddon Campaspe Community Legal Centre’s principal solicitor Peter Noble said the centre was unable to meet current needs within the region with the level of funding available.The centre receives about $400,000 annually from the State Government, but Mr Noble said that with additional funding the centre would be able to provide assistance for migration advice services, and services for the homeless and those embroiled in family violence.“We believe we could easily establish a migration advice service that provided significant assistance to the Sudanese and Karen communities in Bendigo . . . (but) we need at least in the vicinity of $150,000,” he said. Mr Noble said the centre had been in talks with Federal Government for some time about the legal need within the region.“In the last couple of years the service has undertaken a number of innovative projects in response to unmet legal need,” he said.“Because of these needs and because we are a solely state-funded service, we have raised with the Federal Attorney-General the need for federal funds in this region, given that many of the issues that come up relate to Commonwealth law and regulation.” He said that both community legal centres and legal aid services had reached a crisis point following long-term underinvestment by the previous government.“There was very poor investment by the former coalition government in legal aid and in the context of the global economic crisis, it has obviously proven difficult for governments to prioritise those services, not withstanding the knock-on benefits they have within the community,” he said.Speaking to lawyers yesterday, Mr McClelland said he understood the need for legal aid services within the community.But he said he appreciated pressures continued to hurt the system.“Considerable funds are provided at both the federal and state level for legal aid, community legal centres and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services . . . (and) one area which has been of particular concern to the legal profession in Victoria, has been the levels of Commonwealth legal aid funding for family law matters,” Mr McClelland said. “In spite of the pressures the global economic downturn has placed on the Government’s overall budget position, the Government has maintained legal aid funding levels and in the last two years has provided additional one-off funding of $47 million to address immediate pressures in the system, including legal aid.” But Mr McClelland said he understood long-term funding issues existed that needed to be addressed, and said it was something he was working with state leaders on as part of ongoing discussions to develop new legal aid agreements.

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