Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2017 Week 03 Hansard (Thursday, 23 March 2017) . . Page.. 978 ..
has acknowledged that core funding is being reduced. Core services are important—as important as specific services.
The clauses in the amendment suggest there will be no reduction in services as a result of cuts, but that is simply not the case. In the ACT the cuts mean there will be $807,000 in 2017-18, down from $1.072 million the previous year. Mr Hanson suggests this should not be seen as a cliff, but there is no interpretation of this that can be described in any other way than a cliff—and a cliff for our most vulnerable people.
The women’s safety package is a good thing but it funds specific services, not the core services provided by the community legal centres. Core funding provides stability for CLCs that allows them to hire and to provide continuity of services. The same reasons that these funding cuts reduce access to justice means that they will increase cost to the community.
Choosing to skimp on funding for legal assistance is a short-sighted financial decision. Early advice and representation helps prevent legal problems from growing into serious social, economic and even criminal issues. Every person who does not get legal help is at risk of ending up with a problem that costs the courts and our social services far more to address in the long run. To quote the former High Court Chief Justice Gleeson:
Providing legal aid is costly. So is not providing legal aid.
The commonwealth’s decision about CLCs will mean that the most vulnerable people in our community will have a harder time getting the protection they need from the justice system. Measured against the impact on the most vulnerable members of our community, the commonwealth’s funding decision falls well short. Support for the community legal centres is support for a justice system that is accessible and for a community that is safer, stronger and more connected. I commend the original motion and I oppose the amendment.
MS STEPHEN-SMITH (Kurrajong—Minister for Community Services and Social Inclusion, Minister for Disability, Children and Youth, Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, Minister for Multicultural Affairs and Minister for Workplace Safety and Industrial Relations) (11.38): I want to speak in support of Mr Rattenbury’s original motion and against the amendment. I am going to reiterate a number of the points my colleagues have made about the importance of community legal centres and the ACT Labor government’s disappointment that the commonwealth has continually ignored calls from state and territory governments and from the community sector to increase core funding to community legal centres.
As the motion notes, community legal centres are facing a funding cliff. We are facing a situation where the federal government has continually, for a number of years, insisted that it will not provide continued core funding and, as the motion says, this will in fact drastically impact on the legal services provided to vulnerable and disadvantaged people in our community. These are the people that, obviously, my portfolio deals with every single day. They are people with disabilities; they are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Canberrans; they are people from culturally and