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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2015 Week 02 Hansard (Wednesday, 18 February 2015) . . Page.. 533 ..

are going to be hit the hardest. This is at odds with the ACT government, which has announced $416,000 over four years to support and enhance the work of the ACT Aboriginal Legal Service.Community legal centres are an efficient way to use the limited funding for legal services, as their front-line delivery and advocacy save costs further down the line. An independent economic cost-benefit analysis commissioned by the National Association of Community Legal Centres determined that every $1 the government spends on CLCs returns $18 of economic benefits accrued to society. These include financial, social and health benefits as well as removing pressure on the court system.

Despite some suggestions to the contrary, legal aid and the community legal centres in the ACT are well integrated and are careful to complement each other and avoid duplication. I note that although the CLCs and legal aid receive federal funding, a significant amount of their activities and advice relate to the ACT community, and the benefits of their work are clearly enjoyed by the ACT community and the government. Losing their services will be of detriment to the ACT and is likely to lead to worse outcomes for disadvantaged groups and greater cost pressures in other parts of the justice system in the longer term.

In the case of legal aid, the budget cut is in the order of $15 million over the next four years. The government’s mid-year budget update had already cut $43.1 million over four years to legal policy reform and advocacy funding. This is another way to hurt the most vulnerable people in our society, such as migrants, who will end up representing themselves without any assistance. Not only does this lead to injustice, but it is ultimately a false economy as court time is wasted and unsatisfactory verdicts are appealed.

The ACT Women’s Legal Centre will have its federal funding reduced from 1 July 2015, resulting in a reduction in staff and services provided to the ACT. This will impact its ability to provide services to vulnerable women, particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients who are using the service since the removal of the care and protection solicitor position at the ACT Aboriginal Legal Service this year.

Like other CLCs, the Women’s Legal Centre is a cost-effective provider of legal services and estimates that its services provide an almost seven-fold return on investment. I note that the Women’s Legal Centre are getting a double whammy because, with low interest rates, the money they are receiving from the ACT Law Society’s trust fund is also being reduced. They are in particularly difficult circumstances.

Similarly, the ACT Environmental Defenders Office will lose its federal funding from 1 July next year, putting it at risk of closing or at least reducing its services. The EDO’s advice and casework primarily relate to environmental matters, noise, planning laws and regulations and biodiversity, which are important issues to the ACT community. The EDO’s work likely keeps considerable pressure off the ACT court system, as well as producing improved outcomes for the community in environmental matters.

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