The Turnbull Coalition acknowledges the valuable contribution of community legal centres (CLCs) and we have made a substantial investment which recognises the vital work being done by the legal assistance sector.
The Coalition Government has committed $1.6 billion over five years under a National Partnership Agreement on Legal Services Assistance with States and Territories, and agreements with Indigenous legal assistance providers. The agreement commenced on 1 July 2015, allocated funding to States and Territories following an evidence-based model and provided much-needed certainty to the legal assistance sector.
Apartment from ceasing to fund Environmental Defenders' Offices in 2013-14, there have been no cuts to community legal centre funding, or Indigenous legal assistance providers. Over the life of the National Partnership Agreement, legal aid funding will increase by $12 million (or 6 per cent).
It is important to note that the Commonwealth Government is the primary funder of Indigenous legal assistance, despite most services being provided for State or Territory criminal matters.
As you would be aware, legal assistance funding is not a matter for the Commonwealth alone.
The Coalition is committed to improving the lives of all Australians and we will do what we can to increase funding levels for legal assistance in the tight fiscal environment. This has been clearly evidenced by the restoration of $25.5 million in legal assistance funding in March 2015 and $45 million (including $30 million in the 2016-17 Budget) allocated to frontline legal assistance services for victims of domestic violence. We will consult closely with States and Territories and the sector regarding the allocation of the $30 million for frontline legal services.
In contrast, Labor has made ad-hoc funding promises. Rather than enhance base funding to ensure long-term sustainability of the legal assistance sector, Labor created the funding cliff facing frontline legal services by committing $6.8 million per year for 4 years to 30 June 2017.
Labor needs to provide greater transparency on how it plans to fund CLCs rather than revert to the chaotic and arbitrary funding approach they took when in Government.