The boss of Community Legal Centres Tasmania says a senior official in the federal Attorney-General's office told her Tasmania had federal funding cut for its legal assistance sector because the state government supposedly hadn't pulled its weight in the space previously.
Since the National Partnership Agreement - a mechanism for the distribution of legal assistance funding across the country - was implemented in 2015, the state government has been forced to top-up the Legal Aid Commission, community legal centres and other legal assistance services with annual funding.
And now prominent Tasmanian legal practitioners are calling on the federal government to restore funding for the sector.
Community Legal Centres Tasmania chairwoman Jane Hutchison is putting the blowtorch on the state government as well, urging it to end its year-to-year funding arrangement for the sector and instead include it in the forward estimates.
"I met with the [state] Justice Department last week and raised the issue [that] Tasmania could once again be treated badly," Ms Hutchison said, referring to the review of the NPA.
"The department reassured me they are doing everything they can to negotiate with the Commonwealth government.
"I've been told by someone senior in the the federal Attorney-General's office that the reduction in funding [for Tasmania's legal assistance sector] was due to the state supposedly not having provided enough funding to the ... sector in the past."
Tenants' Union of Tasmania principal solicitor Meredith Barton agreed with Ms Hutchison that there needed to be greater "security" around state top-up funding for legal assistance services.
"Not knowing for 12 months what's going to happen, how [funding] is going to be dished out ... is really difficult," Ms Barton said.
"When it comes around at this time of year, I say, 'Hey, we've got another 12 months of funding so we're able to breathe a bit of a sigh of relief until we do it all again'."
Ms Barton said Tasmania's acute housing and homelessness problems meant the Tenants' Union had never been busier.
"With housing the way it is, we have struggled," she said. "We don't like to say no to [helping] anyone so we keep [doing] as much as we can do."
State Attorney-General Elise Archer said the state budget didn't provide ongoing funding in the forward estimates for the legal assistance sector because the NPA was due to expire within the year.
As for the state government's overall contribution, Ms Archer said the government had provided a record amount of state funding to the sector.
"Since 2017 alone the Hodgman government has provided more than $3.7 million to the legal assistance sector, to ensure that there has been no reduction in core funding either for legal aid or any of the Tasmanian CLCs subject to the [NPA]," she said.
"We will continue to work constructively with the federal government and certainly highlight this fact."
Tasmania could once again be treated badly.Jane Hutchison, Community Legal Centres Tasmania chairwoman
A spokesperson for the federal Attorney-General's office said on Monday that the new national mechanism for legal assistance funding would provide ongoing support for the sector once the current NPA expires. The level of funding that would flow to Tasmania is yet to be determined.
Earlier this week, Law Society of Tasmania president Evan Hughes said the sector is in "crisis".
Then, on Tuesday, Launceston Community Legal Centre chief executive Nicky Snare said her organisation was running "on the smell of an oily rag" and would have to cut a "frontline" worker if the relative lack of federal funding continued.