Threatened legal centres gain reprieve

Alicia PereraPilbara News
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Pilbara community legal services have expressed relief after the new State Government last week cancelled a proposed severe cut to their funding.

Community legal centres across WA were facing a more than 30 per cut to funding for their services from mid-year, but last week Attorney-General John Quigley announced the Government would provide a $1.2 million reprieve to the sector that would restore funding to its former level.

The Federal Government also committed more funding for community legal centres over the next five years as part of its 2017-18 budget.

Pilbara Community Legal Service chief executive Nanette Williams said the State funding meant the service would avoid a cut which had kept staff in a state of limbo, under which it could only employ two principal solicitors for the region on a temporary basis.

“We have all been lobbying because we could not afford to lose it,” she said.

“It’s a big relief for us, because there’s quite a demand for our legal services, more than we can actually cope with.”

In a statement last week, Aboriginal Legal Service WA chief executive Dennis Eggington said the funding announcement came as a “huge relief” and prevented some drastic consequences, including the closure of some of its 13 offices and a reduction of staff.

“We already operate with minimal staff with huge caseloads, so to have this further reduced would have been disastrous for community members accessing our services,” he said.

“It’s not just the high demand on services, it’s ensuring that there is an equitable service that understands the diverse complexities that often accompany Aboriginal people and the law.

“Without an Aboriginal Legal Service, many of this State’s most disadvantaged peoples wouldn’t seek legal assistance at all.”

Ms Williams said community legal centres were vital as a “one-stop shop” to affordably address residents’ legal matters and link them up with a wide range of services.

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