The Advocacy and Support Centre chief executive officer Philippa Whitman.Photo contributed.
The Advocacy and Support Centre chief executive officer Philippa Whitman.Photo contributed. Contributed

Budget cuts leave Warwick residents in legal limbo

CUTS to funding mean hundreds of Warwick region residents will be in legal limbo from July 1, 2017.

This is because the current Federal Government cut community legal centre funding by 30% in the 2014 budget.

Unlike the nation’s capital cities, there is just one free legal service for our residents to turn to when they are facing problems relating to domestic violence, divorce and separation, child protection, employment, credit, debt and consumer contract issues, disability discrimination, tenancy and neighbourhood disputes and even minor legal issues including driving offences.

Locals who do not qualify for legal aid and who do not have enough cash to hire private solicitors will often seek help at The Advocacy and Support Centre.

TASC helped more than 789 Warwick, Toowoomba and Ipswich residents last financial year.

The centre opened 485 cases, provided 967 referrals and gave 1856 pieces of advice.

While it’s still unclear how much the Warwick office will lose, it was announced in the 2014 Federal Budget that $12.1 million would be cut nationwide in 2017-18, $11.6 million would go in 2018-19 and a further $11.1 million would be cut in 2019-20.

TASC chief executive officer Philippa Whitman said she was preparing for the funding cut to hurt programs such as the Regional Women’s Outreach Legal Service and the Disability Law Project.

"Opportunities to expand our services into new areas where we have identified a need are severely limited - for example employment issues, criminal law issues, representation of clients in court who will otherwise be unrepresented," Ms Whitman said.

"The right of all people for equal access to justice is compromised."

Ms Whitman urged Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, whose government announced the cuts, and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten to make sure our region gets a fair go.

"We represent the most vulnerable and marginalised members of our communities," Ms Whitman said.

"How we treat and care for these people is a reflection on us all."

There are 198 community legal centres across Australia.

About 77% of Queensland’s community legal centre services were provided to regional, rural and remote areas of the state in 2015.

Their support included 100,000 pieces of legal advice to more than 50,000 clients.

Amanda Alford from the National Association of Community Legal Centres said CLCs were often the only source of legal support for regional and rural residents, so it was vital the funding cuts were reversed.

"The impact of the cuts on centres in regional areas is likely to be greater because often there’s no alternative - there is nowhere else for people to go," Ms Alford said.



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