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Ending the gag on legal assistance providers

The Hon Mark Dreyfus KC MP
Media Release

The Australian Government is ending the former government’s censorship of Community Legal Centres by removing the ban on recipients of Commonwealth legal assistance from taking part in political advocacy and lobbying.

Prior to 2014 the National Legal Assistance Partnership specifically stated that Commonwealth funding did not restrict the right of organisations “to enter into public debate or criticism of the Commonwealth, its agencies, employees, servants or agents.”

The Abbott Government scrapped this, and instead imposed a gag rule that specifically banned recipients from advocating for policy change or law reform. The Government, and the Australian community can only benefit if legal assistance providers are able to speak up, and advocate for reform.

Legal assistance providers are superbly well placed to provide advice on law reform and legal assistance.

The Albanese Government is ending this political censorship and restoring independence and free speech to the community legal sector.

I’ve worked with the Attorneys-General of the States and Territories to remove clauses from the National Legal Assistance Partnership 2020-25 that restricted legal assistance providers from engaging in lobbying activities, and required them to collect and report excessive data.

Community legal centres, legal aid commissions, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services play a crucial role in ensuring that all Australians can access our justice systems. They understand better than most the challenges in their sector and the impacts of unmet need on vulnerable Australians.

Ending censorship, and easing the administrative and bureaucratic burden will allow Community Legal Centres and other legal assistance providers to focus on doing what they do best - providing much-needed front-line legal assistance services.