Page 696 - Week 03 - Tuesday, 17 March 2015

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suburbs where there are high numbers of both the most and the least disadvantaged in our community. This reflects the wonderful mixing of Canberra’s suburbs: we do not have suburbs which are solely low income groups; we tend to have suburbs which are both low and high income in their composition. What that means, of course, is that some of the more usual indicators of socioeconomic disadvantage used to determine funding by the commonwealth are not always effective in the ACT context. Therefore, we need to use other mechanisms to identify disadvantage and make sure funding is appropriate.

The commonwealth has unfortunately announced that there will be a $15 million reduction in its legal assistance funding to the states and territories over the next four years. The impact on legal aid alone in 2014-15 is $400,000. I can assure you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that that is a lot of grants of legal assistance to people who need legal representation or assistance in the justice system.

The Women’s Legal Centre will lose an estimated $80,000 per year in 2015-16 as a result of these cuts. A reduction in funds from payments from the ACT Law Society’s statutory interest account, estimated to be about $30,000 per year, will further compound this pressure on our community legal sector. Canberra Community Law, previously the Welfare Rights and Legal Centre, will lose $120,000 over two years as a result of these cuts by the commonwealth. The commonwealth proposes nationally to reduce funding to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services by $13.1 million. The impact on the local service of ALS is unknown at this stage, but we can be, unfortunately, fairly confident that there will be some translation through to the local Aboriginal Legal Service.

Legal Aid ACT has advised that the commonwealth legal aid funding cuts are the equivalent of at least 2½ full-time staff. The Productivity Commission’s report into access to justice arrangements identified the following legal aid services in doubt following these funding changes: funding for an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander dispute resolution project officer, funding for half a full-time equivalent position in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander client support, and funding for a help desk paralegal for a period of six to 12 months. The CEO of the Legal Aid Commission, Dr Boersig, has already advised that Legal Aid has started to implement cost-cutting measures in anticipation of the commonwealth reduction in funding.

The impact is not, as I have indicated, confined to Legal Aid ACT. The Women’s Legal Centre will lose the services of about 2.8 full-time equivalent solicitors. Through the provision of direct services, as well as supervision of pro bono work, the practical impact of this reduction is about 2,200 fewer hours of legal services to vulnerable women in our community. If this was a private legal practice, the work would be to the value of over $600,000 per annum. Here, in the Women’s Legal Centre, that is the practical impact of these cuts. This has the real potential to lead to increased personal safety risks for women and their children, and the increased social isolation and marginalisation of women, particularly Indigenous women, women with a disability and women from non-English-speaking backgrounds, who will no longer be able to access specialist women-centred legal services.

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