Community legal centres: Brandis should now listen to advice for $200 million more

Unequal justice: Community legal centres urgently need more funding.
Unequal justice: Community legal centres urgently need more funding.

OPINION

One of the better decisions made by a government recently was Attorney-General George Brandis reversing his funding cuts to community legal centres.

Funny how sometimes it takes dumping a bad policy for a government to look sensible. In NSW forced council mergers, some unsupported by the government’s own consultants, come to mind.

Announcing his backflip last week on CLCs, Senator Brandis spoke of a “funding shortfall” he would remedy.

The hangman was blaming the noose. This shortfall was caused by the Government cutting $35 million from CLCs. The reversal – $55 million – will be tied to domestic violence and indigenous legal work.

Funding is still desperately short. The Productivity Commission, not a bleeding heart organisation, has called for a $200 million funding boost for the sector. This is where the A-G, in his moment of clarity, should now turn his attention.

Most CLCs operate beyond capacity, forced to turn people away. Their work, helping vulnerable people who can’t afford legal advice, is essential when access to our justice system can be so unequal.

Full disclosure: more than a decade ago I did volunteer legal work at a CLC in Sydney. 

And: I have only met Senator Brandis once and it stuck in my mind. We’re outside the art centre in the Arnhem Land community of Yirrkala, population about 600. Myself and another journalist approached the then arts minister, saying “excuse me Senator, can we ...”. He walked straight past, nose held high as if we didn’t even exist. He continued about ten paces, stopped, folded his arms, and proceeded to actively ignore all around. We journos are used to being brushed but this display was bizarre. I still haven’t seen anything like it.

I’m sure the senator had many things on his mind. Perhaps with this decision to reverse the funding cuts, he has one fewer.

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