Community legal centres get much-needed funds

The McGowan government says it will provide $2 million in funding to community legal centres throughout WA.

Community legal centres have struggled in recent years with large cuts to their funding, making it extremely hard for them to provide legal services.

State Attorney General John Quigley says it is an issue of justice for all citizens and it’s not just about profitability.

“Access to justice for all citizens is a critical issue, particularly for those that are less fortunate or live in remote areas and are not able to access legal aid,” Mr Quigley says.

The service, which mostly represents low-income earners, has struggled with funding in recent years due to federal cutbacks.

However, the McGowan government says it is committed to finding a sustainable funding plan for CLCs.

The initial grant will be drawn from the Criminal Property Confiscation fund, meaning many of the fees will now be paid by the perpetrators of such crimes.

“I find it particularly fitting that money and other assets the State has seized from convicted criminals are used to fund key services which benefit the community, including victims of crime,” Mr Quigley says.

The breakdown of the funding would see $1.35 million used to ensure no CLCs lose funding in this budget.

The remaining $650,000 would go towards helping CLCWA, the state government, and Legal Aid in creating a more sustainable business model.

Executive director of CLCWA Sharryn Jackson says the funding agreement is extremely welcome and she hopes the promise of long-term support can be upheld.

“It’s a good start. The $650,000 will provide us with much needed funds to work with legal aid and the Department of Justice,” Mrs Jackson says.

However, she says hopefully there are more changes on the horizon, including the possibility of longer funding agreements.

“At the moment, we have highly unsatisfactory one year agreements with six month reporting requirements. Centres funded under the national government agreement are allowed five year agreements, that is one step we definitely need,” says Mrs Jackson.

The importance of CLCs is widely documented, with many major organisations such as Legal Aid defending the need for CLCs.

In 2014-2015 alone, CLCs assisted 216,000 people with legal advice Australia-wide, in areas ranging from disability discrimination support to child support advice and immigration.

“The people we deal with tend to have much more than one legal issue, they need to be put in contact with programs and support that help them in more than just legal ways,” Mrs Jackson says.

“It’s a good start, we welcome it and hope that this is a sign of the more sustainable future to come.”