ACT News

ACT joins chorus of government protest against Legal Aid cuts

State and territory attorneys-general have written to their federal counterpart, George Brandis.
State and territory attorneys-general have written to their federal counterpart, George Brandis. 

The ACT has renewed pleas to the federal government to reverse savage cuts to legal aid services, warning the move will hurt victims of domestic violence and Indigenous Australians. 

ACT Attorney-General Simon Corbell joined his state and territory counterparts to warn the Commonwealth its moves to strip funding from Legal Aid, community legal centres, and the Aboriginal Legal Service - organisations already in crisis - was unacceptable.

Attorney-General Simon Corbell: ACT "cannot accept and cannot bear" cost shifting.
Attorney-General Simon Corbell: ACT "cannot accept and cannot bear" cost shifting. Photo: Rohan Thomson

The cuts would hit vulnerable Australians most, including victims of family violence, he said. They come despite despite Prime Minister Tony Abbott speaking this week of the need to tackle domestic violence in Australia.

The attorneys-general issued a letter on Friday afternoon warning federal Attorney-General George Brandis the states could not make up the funding that was being stripped through their national funding agreement with the Commonwealth.

"We are united in our concern about proposed cuts in funding to Legal Aid Commissions, Community Legal Centres, the Aboriginal Legal Services, as well as a range of changes to administrative arrangements," they wrote.

"The proposed agreement will represent a cost shift to states and territories which we cannot accept and cannot bear."

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The ACT Legal Aid Commission is expected to lose about $300,000 this financial year, while $15 million is likely to be stripped from the Legal Aid budget nationally over the next four years.

The Aboriginal Legal Service believes it will need to find about $3 million in savings from its NSW-ACT operations by June. 

"It is difficult to reconcile these actions with the Prime Minister's recent recognition of the importance of tackling domestic and family violence and closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians as national issues," the attorneys-general wrote.

"Cutting funding to the services which help these vulnerable members of our community, at this time, is short sighted and ill-conceived."

The letter called on Senator Brandis to detail the funding allocations to states and territories by the end of March, and to make no further cuts to Legal Aid Commissions, Community Legal Centres, or the Aboriginal Legal Service.

It also called for the federal government to commit to ensure future funding adjusted for indexation and population changes, and for all future negotiations to be conducted in "good faith" with states and territories. 

Mr Corbell spoke about the cuts at the launch of the ACT's legal year earlier this year, saying the territory was not able to replace the funding being taken away by the Abbott government

"We really need the federal government to understand that their cuts to Legal Aid can't stand, because disadvantaged people are suffering," he said after a speech to judges and lawyers in the ACT Supreme Court.