Cyclone Debbie weather event amplifies need to adequately fund Queensland CLCs
4 April 2017
Community legal centres that provided essential free legal services after the 2011 floods would be forced to overcome massive government funding shortfalls if they were to provide similar assistance to victims of the damaging Cyclone Debbie weather event, according to Queensland Law Society.
QLS president Christine Smyth on Tuesday (April 4) called on the government to restore vital funds for CLCs to assist the rising tide of cash-strapped and uninsured people left homeless or with major property damage with access to much needed free legal advice and services.
Ms Smyth said in January 2011 hundreds of lawyers from across the state heeded the call to assist their fellow Queenslanders by providing free legal advice to people trying to get their lives back on track in the wake of devastating floods.
The scheme – coordinated by Legal Aid Queensland – highlighted the essential services provided by CLCs to people most in need.
“Recent multi-million dollar Federal Government funding cuts to Queensland CLCs only amplifies the crucial role they play in the wider community – in particular disadvantaged people and families in need – during times of natural disaster," Ms Smyth said.
“People who wouldn’t normally be eligible to get legal aid funding and were not insured are going to rely on CLC solicitors to help them rebuild their lives. CLCs will effectively be their only lifeline in this time of crisis."
“Six years ago CLCs enjoyed a sufficient level of funding to play an integral role in helping Queenslanders reassemble their lives and their homes and fulfil a much-needed role for people in need.
“The recent government cuts mean that access to justice for the state’s most disadvantaged and disaffected as a result of the Cyclone Debbie weather event – and the ensuing floods – may be turned away from CLCs who have insufficient funds and resources available to provide assistance.
“This is unacceptable for families impacted by this natural disaster. We Queenslanders pay our taxes to the Federal Government so they can supply essential social infrastructure.
“It is time they put their money where their mouth is and ensure CLCs are sufficiently funded to provide the services needed to cope with this crisis."
Ms Smyth’s comments come less than month after QLS joined Queensland Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath and CLC Queensland Director James Farrell to urge the Federal Government to reverse its decision to cut $2 million in vital CLC funding.
“It is disturbing that the Federal Government appears to be waging a war on the disadvantaged through funding cuts to the vulnerable members of our communities,” Ms Smyth said on March 18.
“Government’s role is to provide essential services and infrastructure – legal advice is an essential social service, and one that is the responsibility of government to provide."
She said in 2015-16 Queensland solicitors provided 290,000 hours in free legal advice or services.
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