Hunter Community Legal Centre faces "harsh cuts": Hunter Labor MPs say

Hunter Community Legal Centre operations manager Julie Vitnell, Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon, Newcastle MP Sharon Claydon and Senior Solicitor Michael Giles. Picture: Supplied
Hunter Community Legal Centre operations manager Julie Vitnell, Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon, Newcastle MP Sharon Claydon and Senior Solicitor Michael Giles. Picture: Supplied

A “harsh” funding cut to a Hunter community legal service will mean fewer people will be able to get free help, the Federal Opposition says.

But the Turnbull government has pointed to funding increases for Hunter Community Legal Centre for the past six financial years, in response to scathing criticism by the Hunter’s Labor MPs.

The Hunter centre, based in Newcastle, holds outreach clinics across the Lower Hunter, including at Cessnock and Raymond Terrace. It offers free legal advice for people who do not qualify for Legal Aid.

Fairfax Media has previously reported that community legal services across Australia would experience a 30 per cent drop in funding – a so-called “funding cliff” – from July 1 when the current arrangement expires.

In a joint statement, Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon, Paterson MP Meryl Swanson and Newcastle MP Sharon Claydon said the centre “could be forced to turn away hundreds of local residents from July 1” because of the government’s “harsh cuts”.

Any loss of funding will seriously jeopardise its capacity to serve our communities.

Statement from Hunter Labor MPs.

“They are on the frontline in the battle against domestic violence and assist people with problems as diverse as Centrelink debt, tenancy disputes and employment issues,” the Labor MPs said.

“Any loss of funding will seriously jeopardise its capacity to serve our communities.”

A spokeswoman for Attorney General George Brandis said Commonwealth funding for the Hunter centre had increased by more than 30 per cent since 2010.

She said the government supported the work of the legal assistance sector and would provide “substantial funding to front-line services to help those who need it most”.

“When in government, the Labor Party through then Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus allocated an amount of funding but decided it would expire on June 30, 2017,” she said. “This is the ‘Dreyfus funding cliff’ – a direct result of decisions the former Attorney-General made but now, with trademark hypocrisy, criticises.”

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