CLCs call for a universal legal safety net

 

The High Court of Australia has been the setting for some of the most significant moments in Australian legal history. On 16 July it was the setting for the launch of a nationwide justice campaign and a new report: Unaffordable and out of reach: the problem of access to the Australian legal system.

The Community Law Australia campaign launch captured media attention across the country and focused attention on the need for increased funding for CLCs, legal aid commissions and Indigenous legal services to enable ordinary Australians to access legal advice. The launch also saw many CLCs, like Loddon Campaspe CLC, swing in behind the campaign via social media.

Community Law Australia is a coalition of CLCs, led by the National Association of Community Legal Centres. There are almost 200 CLCs across Australia that provide Australians with around half a million free legal services each year – including advice, information, representation, community legal education and law reform work. Over 80% of CLC clients earn less than $26,000 a year.

Unaffordable and out of reach makes the simple point that, unlike Australia’s health system, we do not have a universal safety net for legal help. CLCs, legal aid commissions and Indigenous legal services are simply not funded adequately to “help Australians access the law, regardless of their financial situation, social circumstance or geographic location.”

The report highlights the particular disadvantage faced by people in rural and regional Australia. It notes the 2004 Senate Legal and Constitutional References Committee inquiry into legal aid and access to justice, which found that “the inadequacies in legal aid provision are greatly magnified in rural and remote areas. Large areas of Australia are not covered by legal aid or free legal services.”

It was just such a gap in legal services in our neighbouring Goulburn Valley region that prompted Loddon Campaspe CLC and UnitingCare: Cutting Edge to kick start the CLC4GV Campaign. And while we were happy to recently report that this campaign had secured a further two years funding for the Pilot CLC in Shepparton, we know there are plenty of other “justice black spots” across Australia that are not so lucky.

Unaffordable and out of reach also puts the issue in human terms, which mirror many of the cases Loddon Campaspe CLC has dealt with since 2005: “For a mother escaping a violent partner and trying to protect herself and her children with an intervention order and appropriate family law orders, or for grandparents whose retirement home (where they invested their life savings) has gone into administration, or for a pregnant woman discriminated against by her employer, the costs of paying for advice and taking action can be extremely prohibitive.”

How can you help?

Community Law Australia’s Take Action page has several suggestions for how you can help the campaign via social media and other means. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow and support the campaign via @CommunityLawAus. If you’re on Facebook, you can Like them at http://www.facebook.com/CommunityLawAustralia

15 August 2012

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