Staff at the Illawarra’s only free legal service are “cautiously optimistic” after the Turnbull government revealed it had abandoned plans to slash millions of dollars in funding from community legal centres.
The government has announced $56 million would be set aside for the community legal sector in this year’s federal budget, to be handed down on May 9.
The win comes after the Illawarra Legal Centre (ILC) feared it would have to turn away about 500 people a year from July because of the cuts.
Attorney-General George Brandis and fellow ministers Michaelia Cash and Nigel Scullion revealed on Monday the government would spend $55.7 million over the next three years on community legal centres ($39 million) and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services ($16.7 million).
“The funding commitment that Michaelia and I are announcing this morning recognises the vital role of community legal centres to the legal assistance sector,” Senator Brandis said.
“This decision has been made to allocate new money, despite budgetary pressures, because of our acknowledgement of the central importance of what community legal centres do.”
ILC’s principal solicitor, Phillip Dicalfas, was “cautiously optimistic”. “We’re hoping this is a simple reversal of the cuts and that the money that’s being restored is for exactly the same purposes as the money that was cut,” Mr Dicalfas said.
Labor Member for Whitlam Stephen Jones welcomed the federal government’s reversal.
“It’s a shame we’ve had to fight for such a vital service, but the Coalition’s backflip is good news,” Mr Jones said.
Senator Brandis said the record funding commitment showed the government “recognised the essential role of the legal assistance sector in providing access to justice for the most vulnerable Australians”.