March 16, 2017


Ellie-Marie Watts

A funding cut may force the Hunter Community Legal Centre to end its Nelson Bay outreach service, a prospect that has Paterson MP Meryl Swanson and the Yacaaba Centre "very concerned".

The Newcastle-based centre provides a free legal outreach service once a month at the Yacaaba Centre for residents who do not qualify for Legal Aid.

The loss of that service would be devastating to the community, Yacaaba Centre director Lynn Vatner said.

"These are already the most vulnerable people in the community," she said. "To lose access to legal advice, to be able to talk with someone face-to-face, it's very concerning."

All community legal services across Australia face a 30 per cent drop in funding from July 1 - a so-called "funding cliff" - when the current arrangement expires.

Despite this, the Turnbull Government has pointed to funding increases for Hunter Community Legal Centre for the past six financial years.

"Even in a resource constrained environment, the Australian Government is providing over $1.6 billion for legal aid, community legal centres and Indigenous legal assistance between 2015 and 2020," a spokeswoman for Attorney General George Brandis' office said.

Ms Swanson joined a chorus of Federal Opposition MPs who last week called the Australian Government's cut "harsh".

"The Hunter centre has already been forced to end its monthly outreach service to Raymond Terrace, and is now being forced to consider ending the service in Nelson Bay as well," she said.

"This government must stop its cuts to legal centres, and support the work of wonderful organisations such as the Yacaaba Centre, who are working hard to help our most vulnerable."

Funding pressures saw the Newcastle-based community legal service close its outreach services in Raymond Terrace and Muswellbrook in 2016.

It was only though state funding that the centre was able to hire a part-time solicitor to continue the Nelson Bay outreach service.