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ACT's legal centres join together in plea for funding from ACT, federal governments

Four community legal centres that protect vulnerable Canberrans have banded together to make a desperate plea for help from all levels of government in the wake of major federal funding cuts. 

Legal Aid, the Environmental Defenders' Office, the Women's Legal Centre, and the Welfare Rights and Legal Centre say last year's slashing of federal government funding has hit them hard. 

ACT Attorney-General Simon Corbell made a plea to the Commonwealth on Monday for more funding to legal aid services, saying it was needed to protect Canberra's most disadvantaged.

The four centres, along with the Tenants Union ACT, which receives no direct federal or ACT funding, issued a joint statement on Tuesday, welcoming Mr Corbell's speech and his push for federal aid.

But they said they would welcome funding from all levels of government to pull them out of the dire circumstances they've been left in following last year's federal funding cuts.

The federal government stripped more than $300,000 from Legal Aid ACT, $100,000 from the Environmental Defenders' Office, $50,000 from the Women's Legal Centre, and $60,000 from the Welfare Rights and Legal Centre. 


The centres fear more cuts are yet to come.

The budget hits have come despite a report published by the Productivity Commission in early December urging for increased funding to community legal centres,

The Productivity Commission found that concerning gaps existed with access to justice, particularly for free legal help in family law matters like family violence and child protection.

It recommended that, to meet current demand, an additional $200 million a year of federal funding was needed, and cuts to indigenous legal services reversed.

The report was described by some as a "watershed moment" for the legal assistance sector in Australia.

Environmental Defenders' Office chief executive officer Camilla Taylor said Mr Corbell's speech was welcomed.

"It is encouraging to hear ACT Attorney General Simon Corbell speak out in defence of community legal centres at a time when funding across the whole sector is rapidly being slashed," she said.

"All levels of government have a role in supporting legal aid."

Mr Corbell said on Monday that his government would do what it could if representations to the federal government failed. 

He said he was already working to ensure ACT funding was being used in the best possible way, and would look at how duplication between the centres could be reduced.

ACT Women's Legal Centre executive director Heidi Yates said the organisations were an efficient and effective investment for governments. 

"Cuts to funding results in cuts to frontline services, and this impacts on our ability to provide essential support to some of our community's most vulnerable, putting women and children at risk," she said.

Legal Aid ACT chief executive officer John Boersig said the response from the local community had been encouraging following the loss of federal funding.

"Strong and effective community legal centres improve outcomes for at-risk members of our community, who would not otherwise be able to afford legal assistance, as well as improving the wider justice system, keeping courts efficient and fair," Mr Boersig said.