A $12.1 Australia-wide cut to the annual federal funding of Community Legal Centres will greatly affect Lithgow residents’ ability to access legal advice.
The Elizabeth Evatt Community Legal Centre based in Katoomba, which currently offers weekly outreach support to residents of Lithgow, will have its annual budget cut by 20 per cent starting from July 2017.
Arlia Fleming, the managing principal solicitor of the legal centre, said they would likely have to lose one-and-a-half full time lawyers from their four lawyer team, greatly impacting their ability to deliver outreach services to Bathurst, Orange and Lithgow.
“We currently come to Lithgow two days a week. On Tuesdays we visit the Lithgow Information & Neighbourhood Centre and provide free legal advice to Lithgow residents. On Thursdays we provide advice to victims of domestic violence in the safe room of the Lithgow Court House on Apprehended Violence Orders, as well as legal advice on child custody and property matters,” she said.
“Once cuts come in, these outreach services probably be reduced from weekly to once-a-month services.
More than 60 per cent of the centre’s case work is family and domestic violence matters. In the 2015-2016 business year, 83 per of the centre’s clients either had no income or earnt below $27,000 per year.
“Our clients have no ability to pay for legal advice.” Ms Fleming said.
The centre currently has a three week waiting time for an appointment, which Ms Fleming believes will only increase after July.
“When people can’t get assistance after a month of a legal issue becoming apparent the legal issues tend to compound. People can lose their license or their job and the stress of that could lead to relationship break down or children protection services getting involved.
“We are trying to come up with ways we can do things a little differently. It’s a difficult situation.”
Federal Member of Parliament for Calare Andrew Gee told the Lithgow Mercury he had spoken to the Prime Minister and the Attorney General about the cuts to the centre. Mr Gee MP said $16.5 million would be made available to target domestic violence and family law matters.
“I have specifically asked the Attorney General to investigate whether any funding reduction for the centre can be offset by snaffling some of this new money which is being made available,” Mr Gee MP said.