FREMANTLE’S most vulnerable citizens will be hardest hit by Turnbull government cuts affecting the city’s community legal centre, warns Federal Labor MP Josh Wilson.
Legal aid centres across the country are facing their second round of cuts since October, with $10 million drying up on July 1 after attorney general George Brandis decided against continuing a funding program established under a previous Labor government.
The move has drawn howls of protest, particularly from domestic violence advocates who say it will leave women and children vulnerable to abusive partners.
Fremantle Community Legal Centre co-ordinator Judy McLean said the cuts couldn’t have come at a worse time, as reports of domestic violence are on the rise.
But Ms McLean said there was also a wide tranche of issues not directly considered under the domestic violence portfolio which were brewing and they would be difficult to address under the cuts.
“While the funding keeps getting cut, our targets have kept rising, but I’ve said that this year we’re going to have to address those targets to reflect the reality of the situation,” Ms McLean told Mr Wilson and Fremantle mayor Brad Pettitt this week. The centre is managed by Fremantle council.
Ms McLean said the centre’s workload had increased following Barnett government cuts to financial counselling services and Legal Aid, whose Fremantle office was shut.
Ms McLean says she wants to look at a new model where the centre takes on standard legal cases, saying the income generated could buffer the centre from government cuts.
Mr Wilson, whose lawyer father Tony established one of WA’s first community legal agencies, took up the issue in Parliament last week, saying the $10 million helps pay for justice.
“You cannot say that you care about the rule of law or that you care about the equality of people before the law and at the same time support these cuts,” Mr Wilson said.
“The Fremantle Community Legal Centre…supports people dealing with eviction, bankruptcy and domestic violence.
“Seventy two per cent of its clients earn less than $40,000 a years; 21 per cent have mental health issues or are people with a disability; 27 per cent are single parents; and 10 per cent are indigenous Australians.”
Mr Wilson said every $1 that was spent on legal centres prevented $4 being pushed onto another part of the social safety net.
by STEVE GRANT