Funding cuts to South East community legal services have been slammed from all quarters.
The cuts by state government will lead to the closure of the SE Community Legal Service in Mount Gambier and will mean clients will have to travel to Adelaide for face-to-face appointments.
The closure of the centre will impact clients from all over the region including the Naracoorte district. The centre had been providing fortnightly outreach services on-site in Naracoorte.
Attorney-General John Rau said the closure of the centre was part of “measures to mitigate the impact of Commonwealth funding cuts and enhancing the way the sector works together”.
The senior solicitor for the centre Sandy Clark said its closure was shattering for both the staff at the centre and their many clients who desperately needed the support.
She said many services provided by the centre were face-to-face with clients and in future these would have to be conducted over the phone or by teleconference which would be highly inconvenient.
“The end result is, clients are less likely to pursue their legal rights,” she said.
“Face-to-face is so important for most people, let alone those with a disability or language difficulty.”
Ms Clark, who herself will become unemployed when the funding ceases on July 1, said services would now be provided from the Southern Community Justice Centre at Christies Beach.
That centre has received increased funding to support the South East clients, but the sum of the extra funding is just one third of what was previously provided to the South East and the Riverland combined.
The State Liberals also called on the Weatherill Labor Government to continue funding the centres.
“Unfortunately the Riverland and South East will not have their own legal centre, requiring residents to travel to Christies Beach for face to face advice,” said Shadow Attorney-General Vickie Chapman.
“This loss of service will force victims and witnesses to travel for hours at their own expense.”
In April this year the Commonwealth announced a $55 million commitment to legal aid funding.
“The Attorney-General has stuck with the Weatherill Labor Government’s playbook of blaming the Federal Government in an attempt to distract from the State Government’s failures.
“The Law Society of SA, legal professionals and community legal centres have spoken and made substantial submissions to the Attorney-General to reverse these cuts, yet they have been ignored,” Ms Chapman said.
“The Weatherill Labor Government should reinstate the $6 million over the next four years which would clearly assist in providing face to face legal services in our major regional cities.”
Ms Clark said supporters of the centre hadn’t given up hope that the closure might be overturned. She said anyone wanting to see the decision reversed should contact their local politician to make their view known.