Parliament of Victoria: funding cuts to ECLC
Samantha Dunn, Eastern Metropolitan MLC, delivered the following Adjournment Speech in Victorian Parliament on February 22:
The Eastern Community Legal Centre (ECLC) provides clients with free and confidential legal advice from a community lawyer. They provide a range of services not limited to family law, domestic violence, fines and infringements, tenancy issues, debt, consumer affairs issues and minor criminal matters. They also provide an important referral service for other areas of law. Many of the Eastern Community Legal Centre’s clients are vulnerable, as they are low-income earners, have compelling circumstances such as mental health issues or are otherwise challenged by the intricacies of the legal process. The ECLC served 3211 clients in 2015–16 yet had to turn many more away due to insufficient funding. The ECLC provides services throughout my electorate of Eastern Metropolitan Region through three offices, the most recently established being the Yarra Ranges Community Legal Centre in Healesville.
Like other service providers across the country, the ECLC is affected by funding cuts imposed by federal Attorney-General George Brandis, with cuts taking federal funding from $42 million to $30 million. State funding is critical to make up the gap. However, clients of legal services find themselves caught in the crossfire between federal and state agencies. The state does not want to budge on the funding deficit in order to emphasise the cruelty of Mr Brandis’s cuts. The action I seek is that the Attorney-General, Martin Pakula, address the funding gap for Victoria’s community legal services and that a long-term funding solution be developed as part of the 2017–18 state budget.
Attorney-General Martin Pakula issued the following response:
The funding of legal assistance services is the shared responsibility of the Commonwealth and State Governments. Historically, Victoria has provided a significant majority of that funding. For instance, Victoria provided over 60 per cent ($405.1 million) of the $672.2 million provided by the State and Commonwealth Governments to Victoria Legal Aid and community legal centres in the five years 2011-12 to 2015-16.
The Victorian Government is committed to supporting the vital work done by our legal assistance service providers. This is in stark contrast to the Commonwealth Government, which is cutting funding for community legal centres by approximately 30 per cent from 2017-18.
In June 2015, the Government entered into a new five-year National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance (NPALAS), effective from 1 July 2015. The NPALAS governs the Commonwealth’s funding for Victoria Legal Aid and, for the first time, community legal centres. The NPALAS allocates Commonwealth base funding for community legal centres over five years from 2015-16. The NPALAS also allocated guaranteed minimum funding to 14 community legal centres for the first two years only, 2015-16 and 2016-17. Eastern Community Legal Centre is one of the 14 community legal centres that was guaranteed minimum funding as it had been the recipient of additional funding from the Commonwealth that was rolled into the NPALAS.
In 2016-17, Eastern Community Legal Centre is receiving State funding of $882,985. Eastern Community Legal Centre has also been successful in State Government funded grants rounds over the past two years, having received $251.925 in additional funding.
In 2016-17, Eastern Community Legal Centre will receive $436,662 in Commonwealth funding (excluding Social and Community Services Equal Remuneration Order funds). In 2017-18, Commonwealth funding for Eastern Community Legal Centre will decrease to $196,409 – this is a significant loss of $240,253.
I recently met with Mr Michael Smith, Chief Executive Officer of Eastern Community Legal Centre on 21 February 2017 to discuss the effect the
Commonwealth Government’s funding cut will have on the community legal centre and its service in the Yarra Ranges.
The Commonwealth Government’s cuts will impact many community legal centres across Victoria, including the Eastem Community Legal Centre, with some Victorian community legal centres losing over 50 per cent of their Commonwealth funding from 1 July 2017.
I have previously raised with the Commonwealth Attorney-General, Senator the Hon. George Brandis QC, the significant impact that this loss of funding will have on the ability of Victorian Community Legal Centres to deliver their vital services.
Since coming to office, the Victorian Government has invested heavily in community legal centres with an additional $5.7 million provided in the last two years through a series of grants programs. This package includes: $2 million over two years through the Community Legal Centre Assistance Fund; $2.4 million to the Family Violence Duty Lawyer Fund; and $1.3 million for the Community Legal Centre Family Violence Fund.
The grant funding has helped community legal centres deliver a range of legal assistance services to vulnerable and disadvantaged Victorians across the state including family violence-related services to keep women and children safe and other services to assist members of our community who are experiencing homelessness, mental illness, infringement and debt matters, and those living in rural and remote areas.
The Victorian Government will continue to advocate for more funding from the Commonwealth Government and deliver support to where it’s needed most.
THE HON MARTIN PAKULA MP