Suncoast Community Legal Service has been the beneficiary of significant government funding from Queensland’s Department of Justice and Attorney-General and the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department. The amount of funding has historically been variable. In 2017 this funding was reviewed for a three year term, under an open tender system instituted for the first time. In September our Service was advised that it would incur a 39% per annum funding cut, compared to the 2016/17 financial year, effective immediately. In dollar terms this reduces the Service’s operating budget by approximately $240,000 to a total of $409,000 per year, at a time when community demand for our legal expertise has never been greater.
The Service had been receiving Commonwealth ‘one-off’ funding to assist the victims of domestic and family violence for the past two years and this is not continuing. With two lawyers engaged to do this work, the Service had been able to increase its level of case work by 44%. Over 40% of the advices provided by the Service are in the areas of family law, family and domestic violence and child protection. The majority of family law matters that we take on have an element of domestic violence.
The funding cut is a devastating blow, as we have always punched above our weight in terms of delivering value for money for government. Notably, above and beyond the significant staff work load, the Service’s 100+ volunteer lawyers and 40+ volunteer receptionists, contribute substantially to output. We also value-add to our core funding through several partnership arrangements, notably with the University of Sunshine Coast Law School and Tenants Queensland. This means that over 90% of the government funding goes to front-line service provision, not rent or outlays.
We had therefore been able to demonstrate what could be achieved in front-line service provision when funding almost matched community demand. Our data confirmed that we had opened 177 cases for particularly disadvantaged clients in the past year, and 147 were closed. We had provided legal advice to 3662 clients and information to a further 2337. We had provided Duty Lawyer services at Maroochydore Court on 79 occasions. We conducted 37 community legal education sessions across the Coast, including the Piano Forte theatre production. Our QSTARS team (separately funded) assisted an additional 2875 clients, adding to our busy office and law clinic. Yet this effort still wasn’t enough to get us over the line in terms of the funding we were seeking.
As the Sunshine Coast is the third largest population centre in Queensland, and we are its only community legal centre, this decision by the Queensland Government exacerbates the Coast’s position as a region that is a geographical ‘hotspot’ in terms of receiving a lower proportion of legal services relative to others and a high number of people likely to need legal assistance.
The Service also conducts fundraising activities, including special events.
As campaigning for the Queensland Election 2017 ramps up, we have made a Call to Parties to review our funding allocation and the way in which funding is allocated to community legal centres in the future – click here for details.