Legal centres get funding reprieve

David SalvaireSound Telegraph
SCALES managing director Gai Walker at the Rockingham office.
Camera IconSCALES managing director Gai Walker at the Rockingham office. Credit: David Salvaire

Following a backlash from the legal sector, the Federal Government has announced it will restore funding to community legal centres, handing the Southern Communities Advocacy Legal Education Service a lifeline.

The Rockingham-based service was bracing for a 30 per cent funding cut after Attorney-General George Brandis flagged changes in previous Budgets, but reversed the decision last week.

SCALES managing director Gai Walker welcomed the announcement, but said there was still uncertainty over the details of the funding reversal.

“This is very good news and a great relief for us, however, we still won’t know the details for another week or so,” she said.

“We’ve been making plans to address those July 1, 2017 cuts including potential loss of staffing hours and service hours, but now we can see a light at the end of the tunnel.

“Some community legal centres have had to consider closing on June 30 , 2017 due to these cuts, we don’t know if these services will be able to reverse closure decisions at such a late stage.

“We are lucky that our situation wasn’t that dire, however, this means there are fewer services to help.

“We’re not yet in a position where we can make any decisions about services next year or guarantee our staff the hours they’re getting at the moment until we know more.”

Ms Walker said over half of SCALES’ clients had family law issues relating to children and that most clients seeking help had experienced family violence.

“Our clients are very vulnerable people, it has been a very difficult time trying to work out how to provide the increasing call on services while at the same time having funding reduced,” she said.

“So we’re anxious to hear more details to know whether we can continue on the way we’ve been going.”

SCALES provides free legal services to low-income people living in the Kwinana and Rockingham areas. Member for Brand Madeleine King said the “vital” legal support service, which has been operating for more than 20 years, should never have been threatened with cuts.

“While I welcome the good news that the Turnbull Government has finally seen sense and will stop its planned devastating cuts to SCALES’ funding, it should never have happened in the first place,” she said.

“For many months now we have been lobbying the Government to stop these cuts. We are still uncertain about the details around funding and I will continue to work to ensure SCALES can keep its doors open to those in need.”

The office of the Attorney-General was approached for comment.

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