Less help for those who need it most

IT WASN’T a surprise, but Hume Riverina Community Legal Service has been left disappointed by the lack of funding in the federal budget.

Hume Riverina CLS principal lawyer Sarah Rodgers said the decision would inevitably mean less services to help vulnerable women who were either victims of domestic violence or going through the Family Court.

“We’re all quite disappointed,” she said. “We obviously wanted more funding because we are already turning people away.”

Hume Riverina CLS has spent the past 12 months advocating for the federal government to actually reinstate a reduction in funding from $42 million down to $30 million, announced in last year’s budget and due to come into effect on July 1.

Last week’s response to the Productivity Commission's Report all but ruled out those hopes.

The report recommended in 2014 that the federal government contribute $120 million of the $200 million per year required to meet legal needs.

But Senator George Brandis did not address the funding recommendation at all in his response.

“The Australian government is committed to doing what it can to increase funding levels for legal assistance in a tight fiscal environment,” he said.

But Ms Rodgers said the only government assistance which has made a difference came from the Victorian government after advocacy from MLAs Bill Tilley and Tim McCurdy.

She said the service did not want to be in a position where it had to deny help to people who walked through the door.

“It’s awful – the people we’re targeting are disadvantaged, they can’t afford to pay for a lawyer,” Ms Rodgers said.

The service recently opened a new Albury office to help meet demands in smaller NSW communities such as Corowa, Deniliquin and Finley.

Legal Aid, also affected by the funding cuts, opened its own Albury office with three lawyers.

“There’s no point in them coming to Albury to meet the needs, only to have our funding cut a year later.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Legal Aid NSW and Hume Riverina Community Legal Service had opened offices in Albury. Legal Aid NSW is due to open an office in June.