Relief granted for community legal centres

The federal government has performed a backflip that we can applaud.

Earlier this week, Attorney-General George Brandis announced that the government would not be de-funding the nation’s community legal centres.

Instead, the pre-budget announcement revealed that the government will spend $55.7 million on the country’s centres throughout the coming three years.

In Tasmania, the state’s community legal centres were scrambling when news of the cuts initially hit, with the five centres to be hit with 30 per cent budget cuts from July 1.

The centres provide free legal advice to vulnerable Tasmanians; those who cannot afford it but still need it.

The Launceston centre estimated that those cuts would equate to the loss of one and a half lawyers.

“Up to probably 30 people a week won’t be able to get assistance,” centre chief executive Nicky Snare told The Examiner in February.

In the 18 months to February, the centre had seen 2354 clients, but had been forced to turn away 1366.

That is 1366 Tasmanians who either went without legal advice, or were forced to make concessions in other parts of their budgets, to pursue expensive legal advice.

Mrs Snare told The Examiner that she was even considering making her (and a receptionist’s) position at the centre part-time, to free up funds to sink into other operational areas.

Thankfully, it appears that that will not have to happen.

However, the funding allocations for the federal government’s $55.7 million have not yet been finalised.

Community legal aid funding is another gap that continues to widen.

Late last year, the state government had to swoop in with a $1.2 million one-off injection for the Tasmanian Women’s Legal Service.

As is sadly the way, so many of those who are most in need of help are the ones who are turned away.

The Tasmanian community, and legal community, put up a good fight when it came to reversing the decision to cut funding from legal centres.

It is the state’s instinct to fight for its rights to equality and a fair go, to make sure that everyone is supported.

It’s this sentiment that makes Tasmania such a strong state for its comparative size.