Cuts hurt most vulnerable

April 06, 2017

Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus went one further and said the Federal Government was failing in its goals of tackling domestic violence if it let these cuts go ahead.

Most of us will never walk into the office of the Goulburn Valley Community Legal Centre.

If people are not in trouble with the law, or in need of some quick and free legal advice, there is no reason to go there.

It is one of those places that most people have walked or driven past numerous times, but have never really noticed.

The unassuming office on Nixon St does not have the flash fittings and furnishings of most for-profit law firms, and some of its furniture has even been donated to the office.

That is because for the tireless workers of the community legal centre, every dollar counts, and on July 1 they will be forced to do more with less funding.

The legal centre is one of many across Australia that will lose a big chunk of Federal Government funding in the new financial year. Locally it means a loss of about one-third of its funding.

The cuts were first announced in the first few months of the then newly-elected Abbott Government.

Cutting debt and getting a handle on the growing budget deficit was the order of the day, and cutting millions in funding from community legal centres was seen as an easy target.

With the cuts less than three months away, staff at the legal centre will soon be saying goodbye to their dedicated family lawyer.

According to the centre’s managing lawyer Kaz Gurney, family law makes up a huge part of the centre’s workload, and many of the people that come through its doors are victims of family violence or trying to leave abusive relationships.

Many of these people, she says, just do not have the spare cash to walk into a for-profit law firm for family law advice, which can quickly go into the hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus went one further and said the Federal Government was failing in its goals of tackling domestic violence if it let these CLC cuts go ahead.

Former Australian of the Year Rosie Batty even wrote to the Prime Minster last month to express concerns about the impact the cuts would have.

As a tireless campaigner for stamping out domestic violence, and a victim herself, she knows first-hand of the struggles people in abusive relationships go through.

‘‘These funding cuts will have a catastrophic impact on the many victims of family violence who are driven to seek legal assistance at a time when they are at their most vulnerable,’’ she wrote.

Community legal centres provide a vital service in balancing what is an unbalanced system.

Everyone is meant to be equal in the eyes of the law, but when money determines the quality of representation, the most vulnerable in our community are at a big disadvantage.

In NSW, state Attorney-General Mark Speakman yesterday announced a rescue package for CLCs in his state to fill the gap from the federal cuts. Hopefully the Federal Government reverses its short-sighted decision, but if it doesn’t, perhaps the Victorian Government needs to fund a similar rescue package for our CLCs.

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