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March 6, 2021

Ad-hoc feds reverse legal centre axing

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Attorney-general George Brandis speaks at a press conference in Canberra last Monday. AAP Image/Lukas Coch
Flip-flop: Federal attorney-general George Brandis has promised announced cuts to legal aid centres will be withdrawn but advocacy groups like EDO remain vulnerable. AAP Image/Lukas Coch

Another federal government backflip has staved off savage cuts to essential legal services for NSW residents in the form of funding for local legal aid centres.

The Northern Rivers Community Legal Centre (NRCLC) is one of nearly 40 community legal centres across the state, all of which were facing closures or savage cuts.

NRCLC manager Angela Pollard told The Echo last week that before the government backdown her organisation alone had been told it would lose $200,000 as a result of the cuts. ‘Many of NRCLC’s clients are Aboriginal, have disabilities, and are women and children escaping domestic violence,’ said Ms Pollard.

She says her organisation covers areas from Tweed, Lismore, Kyogle, Casino, Ballina and Byron Bay.

EDO targeted

But while local legal centres have been handed a last-minute reprieve, legal advocacy organisations such as EDO (formerly the Environmental Defenders Office) have been abandoned.

Australian Greens environment spokesperson, Senator Larissa Waters, herself a former EDO solicitor accused the Abbott Government of ‘adding insult to injury by leaving out EDO’.

‘Grassroots community groups face a David-and-Goliath battle in trying to protect their land, water and climate from big coal and gas, Sen Waters said.

‘With the Abbott government taking the axe to environmental protections and sacking departmental staff, community enforcement of laws that protect the planet is all the more important.

‘It’s clear the Abbott government wants to silence community groups who are standing up against big mining companies getting away with breaching environment law,’ Senator Waters said.

Opposition in the dark

A spokesperson for the shadow general attorney, Mark Dreyfus, told The Echo that even the opposition didn’t know what cuts to expect.

The spokesperson said ‘Mr Dreyfus is calling on the attorney-general George Brandis to make no further cuts’.

Asked why the shadow attorney’s office couldn’t be more proactive or effective on the issue, they replied that as a shadow minister, his office operates with two staff.

‘In office you have around 20 staff,’ they said.

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