Reversal of legal funding cuts an important first step, rest of $1B must be restored

26 March 2015

The Australian Council of Social Service has welcomed the announcement today by the Attorney-General George Brandis to restore cuts to vital community legal services.

In making this announcement the Attorney-General stated the need and vulnerability of the people these organisations supported, and the need for certainty and adequacy of funding, as key factors driving his decision to reverse funding cuts that had crippled the community legal sector.

“This is an essential first step but only the beginning of the work the Government needs to do to repair the damage caused by $1b in funding cuts to community services across the country,” said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

“ACOSS calls on the Federal Government to implement the next steps, restoring funding to the social services, health services, supports in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and the rest of the community legal sector providing much-needed support to legal services including through policy and law reform advice.

“MPs and Senators returning to their electorates after the last sitting week before the Federal Budget will find crisis as the impact of $1b in cuts to community services hits people most in need in our communities,” said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

“The impact of these cuts is already being felt right across the country, from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people seeking health, legal and social services, to people relying on community mental health programs.

“These cuts have targeted people on the lowest incomes, people experience financial crisis or family breakdown, children at risk, vulnerable young people, new mothers and babies, people facing eviction and homelessness, careRs in need of respite, those struggling with drug and alcohol addictions, and those with mental health issues or other serious health concerns in the community.

“The cuts are destroying the fabric of local communities, and years of hard and committed effort by community leaders, many of whom are volunteers. Community organisations are facing extensive job losses, with highly skilled people on modest incomes now facing the grim prospect of unemployment. With 85% of workers in community services being female, and many aged 40 and over, these funding cuts will also create a fresh generation of people at serious risk of poverty and homelessness themselves after a life dedicated to helping others.

“At the same time the defunding of policy advice and advocacy work by housing, homelessness, disability and financial exclusion organisations has reduced the opportunity for local communities to be involved in the decisions made about them by policy-makers and governments.

“We should not be running down important community services, especially those supporting our most vulnerable, in the search for short term Budget savings that will cost us all more in the long term.

“There is another way, as ACOSS has outlined in our Budget submission, which identified at least $13 billion in fairer savings measures that target areas of waste and ensure those with the most capacity to contribute pay their fair share.

“ACOSS will continue to campaign against Budget decisions that hurt people who need the most support in our communities. We call on local MPs to insist on the restoration of this vital funding,” Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Summary of community services funding cuts
Since 2013, the Federal Government has introduced up to $1b in savings measures that are cutting community services for the people in greatest need in Australia.
• $500 million over five years for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community services (Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet – Senator the Hon Nigel Scullion and The Hon Tony Abbott)
• $270 million over four years from social services and a freeze on indexation of sector funding (Department of Social Services – The Hon Scott Morrison)
• $15 million from legal services including legal aid, community legal centres, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services, and women’s family violence legal and prevention services (Attorney General’s Department – Senator the Hon George Brandis)
• Foreshadowed cuts of $197 million over three years from health (Department of Health – The Hon Sussan Ley)