Page updated May 13, 2021

Mixed bag budget for low-income Victorians

May 13, 2021

Eastern Community Legal Centre (ECLC) has described Tuesday’s Federal Budget as a ‘mixed bag’ of positive announcements and missed opportunities for people experiencing social and economic disadvantage throughout Melbourne’s eastern suburbs.

Welcome announcements include $129 million for women’s legal and family advocacy support services around Australia, $17.1 million for Domestic Violence Units and health justice partnerships for mental health support, and $60 million in additional community legal assistance for people experiencing mental health issues. These amounts are all spread over four years.

The government has confirmed that ECLC’s SAGE program (a Domestic Violence Unit) will receive an additional $150,000 each year to expand its support for women experiencing family violence. SAGE provides a comprehensive response to the needs of women experiencing family violence by providing access to a community lawyer, family violence advocate and financial counsellor.

The focus on mental health and legal issues is also welcome. ECLC’s HEAL pilot program provides coordinated legal advice and community support for people experiencing mental health issues, addiction and/or at risk of homelessness. ECLC’s core legal advice services are also eligible for additional funding.

The full impact of additional funding on local services is not fully known yet as it will be spread nationally across community legal centres and legal aid commissions.

CEO, Michael Smith, said he looked forward to expanding free legal advice and integrated community support for around 1 million people throughout Melbourne’s east and that advocacy would continue for further investment and policy reform in key areas.

“Governments and community service providers are starting to realise that community legal support is essential for them to meet the full needs of people who use their services.”

“This is driving investment in new justice partnerships that mean people in crisis or at harm no longer have to find a lawyer – because the lawyer finds them.”

“We look forward to receiving more information on these announcements and what they mean for our services.”

“It is also positive to see the Australian Government funding specialist women’s legal services, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services, and legal support for survivors of child sexual abuse. These are positive steps towards fixing the gaps in our legal assistance system.”

Mr Smith also said there were areas where more action was needed, including safety for women and children, public and community housing, rental affordability, Newstart increases and closing the gap for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“Eastern CLC supports a wide range of people throughout Melbourne’s east and the vast majority of them are on low incomes.”

“Action to reduce poverty and strengthen our public safety nets is an important part of creating healthy communities where fewer people experience legal and financial issues in the first place.”

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