Federal Attorney General George Brandis last week denied community legal centres in WA had cuts to funding despite acknowledging a reduction in funds to state Attorney General Michael Mischin in February.
Mr Brandis made the remarks after Federal Labor pledged $300,000 to the Gosnells Community Legal Centre over three years if elected at the July 2 election with the Labor candidate for Burt Matt Keogh claiming ‘massive cuts for funding for legal centres across the board’.
But Mr Brandis, who was in Armadale last week, said: “Well there haven’t been funding cuts to community legal centres.”
He said a National Partnership Agreement for Legal Assistance Services was signed on July 1 last year between the state and territory legal aid commissions, community legal centres and Aboriginial and Torres Straight Islander legal services.
“Under the national partnership agreement we are guaranteeing the Commonwealth contribution for all three elements, to the extent of $1.6 billion over the five-year life of the agreement,” he said.
“Now that is an increase over the life of the agreement of six per cent in funding, which is about inflation so we are maintaining funding in real terms.”
Mr Brandis said prior to the national partnership there were separate funding schemes to each of the three elements but this was now all bundled together with allocation decided at the state level.
“So it may be in some states the proportion going to legal aid commissions increase and in the case in other states the proportion of funding going to community legal centres increases but that is a decision made at the coalface not at the Commonwealth level,” he said.
“The reason the sector is pleased with the agreement reached last year is it provides certainty and predictability.”
He said the Labor Party topped up contributions in 2013 via an agreement due to expire in June next year. In a letter to Mr Mischin in February Mr Brandis said Legal Aid WA had received a funding increase of $2.93 million or 14 per cent.
He also said: “I acknowledge that…funding to community legal centres in WA will reduce by $1.673 million or 32.2 per cent in 2017-18.”
Executive director for Community Legal Centres Association WA Helen Creed said allocations to legal aid and CLCs were already set down in the national partnership and could not be changed.
“Even if legal aid wanted to they couldn’t take it out of the legal aid bucket and put it into the CLC bucket,” she said.
Regional accreditation co-ordinator for CLCA WA Sharryn Jackson said the centres such as Gosnells were desperately underfunded prior to the cuts and services would be impacted.
She said more families would miss out on representation.
“How they will actually manage those cuts will mean seeing less clients so more families will miss out on the opportunity for representation and legal advice when they need it most, the numbers of staff and the work they do will be affected,” she said.