LABOR HAS called for a national strategy to properly resource existing community legal centres ahead of changes to the family law system.
Shadow Attorney-General Nicola Roxon claimed that changes to the Family Law Act, currently being considered by the federal government, would place further resource pressures on the community legal centres.
“The neglect of legal assistance by the Howard Government shows how out of touch they are about the needs of ordinary families in times of difficulty and distress,” Roxon said.
Speaking to the Conference of the National Association of Community Legal Centres, Roxon said the community legal centres were distributed unevenly, meaning that “over half of all federal electorates have no generalist [legal centres] at all”. She said the top 15 electorates share over a third of the available centres.
The family law changes will increase referrals to community centres as people seek legal advice on parenting plans that have been negotiated out of court, said Roxon. “The Howard Government’s tough new assessment rules for the disability pension are also likely to increase the number of people seeking help in disputes with Centrelink.”
There has been a “lack of national leadership” to meet the demand for legal centres in communities, said Roxon. “The Government has just let the program float along, without the support it needs.”