State & Federal Budgets
Mixed reviews and missed opportunities
ECLC and partners have responded to the recent Victorian and Federal budgets. While there are some positive developments, there are significant missed opportunities, particularly in regard to the urgent need for free quality legal help in the community.
Michael Smith, ECLC CEO said, “Although ECLC and other centres are not facing funding cuts this year and hence less of a public crisis, the demand for assistance is still greatly more than we can meet and we are turning away clients needing vital legal help.
“Both State and Commonwealth inquiries have confirmed the urgent need for major funding increases, but the budget responses have failed to address this. With a vast catchment, this impacts our clients and communities every day.”
Victorian State Budget
From a community sector perspective the State Budget was positive, with very welcome developments in education, health, mental and drug rehabilitation services. Many initiatives have a welcome prevention focus.
However, in the legal and justice area, there is concern that the resources are overwhelmingly focused on response measures, with major funding for increased police and prisons. Support for the court system is welcome, but there is a risk this remains focused on growing a reactive criminal law response.
Serina McDuff, Federation of CLCs CEO, responded to the budget: “When we’ve seen billions invested in new prisons and an increase in policing, we’re concerned that this budget doesn’t get the balance quite right.”
“In particular we’re worried that there’s been no new investment in community legal centres. Community Legal Centres are critical for a fair justice system and a fair community for all.
“This government’s commitment to family violence can’t be understated, but community legal centres are a critical part of the response, and they continue to be forgotten.
“Victim survivors tell us that the difference between seeing a community lawyer or not means them being either a statistic or a survivor. Community lawyers help women and their children escape violence through ensuing they get to remain in their home, escape the horrific economic abuse that their partner has left them with, and while there has been great investment across the system, it hasn’t extended to community legal centres that provide that critical support.” Read the full Federation response here.
VCOSS has developed a thorough yet accessible response to the Victorian Budget – here.
With the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services continuing until 2020, no additional funds were allocated.
New funding of $22 million over five years to address elder abuse, including “specialist elder abuse units located in legal services and health justice partnerships and the development of a National Plan” is highly welcomed, although with only $3 million in 2018-19 a larger and more urgent response is needed.
In relation to family violence, there were some limited initiatives totalling $18.2 million, particularly in staff education, but not the major investment required, particularly in comparison to the Victorian response. ECLC’s own highly respected SAGE program is only funded until August 2019 and the Budget provided no certainty beyond this.
Fair Agenda, DV NSW, NPVPLS Forum, No to Violence, NACLC and the National Foundation for Australian Women have, “jointly expressed despair that the Government has, once again, allocated inadequate resources to the services women rely on to escape abuse.”
“It’s great the Turnbull Government is talking about providing women with real choice and access to opportunity. But women won’t have real choice and opportunity if they don’t have the chance to escape abuse and to live free from violence.” Says Renee Carr, Executive Director of Fair Agenda.
“We’re bitterly disappointed that there appears to be just $18.2 million of funding announced for domestic violence focused services. That’s a fraction of what’s needed to ensure that every woman who needs crisis support, a safe and affordable place to live, or community legal support to get ongoing protection and navigate lengthy court processes, can access specialist services that are safe and understand their needs. Tonight’s announcement also does nothing to address the number of men perpetrating family violence.” Says Moo Baulch, CEO of Domestic Violence NSW.
“The Treasurer declared in his budget speech that one of the five things the Turnbull Government must do with this budget is ‘keep Australians safe’, but made no mention of tackling domestic violence; and appears to have announced very little that will help the huge numbers of women and children who remain unsafe and under threat in their homes.” Ms Carr said. Read the Fair Agenda and partners response here.
The National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC), the peak body for community legal centres in Australia, expressed concern that this year’s Federal Budget is a missed opportunity to guarantee essential services.
“On the whole, this Budget prioritised company tax cuts for big business and personal tax cuts ahead of properly funding essential services, including legal help. This will have a real impact on the hundreds of thousands of people our centres work with every day,” NACLC’s Acting CEO Amanda Alford said.
“For the community legal sector, which provides that help, this Budget is a missed opportunity to provide funding certainty ahead of expiration of National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services in 2020. There is no additional core funding for the sector in this Budget.” Read NACLC’s response here.
ECLC will continue to advocate based on and with the experiences of its clients and communities.