Government lifts its years long “gag-clause” prohibiting CLCs from political advocacy

16 Jan 2023

In good news for the community legal assistance sector, the Federal Government is lifting a restriction in federal funding agreements that previously prohibited Community Legal Centres (CLCs) from taking part in political advocacy and lobbying.

In making the announcement, Attorney General Mark Dreyfus said this change ends: “political censorship and restor[es] independence and free speech to the community legal sector.”

Why was there a gag?

In 2014, the Abbott Government introduced a clause in the National Legal Assistance Partnership (an agreement between the Federal Government and state and territory governments for federally funded legal assistance) that prohibited CLCs from engaging in advocacy. As part of the Federal Government’s recent announcement, this clause will now be removed from the National Legal Assistance Partnership 2020-25.

What was the impact of the gag?

The 2017 Civil Voices report found that these “gag clauses” had been one factor that contributed to the poor health of public debate in Australia.

Dr Andrew Leigh, the Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury, explained the effect of gag clauses by saying:

The Coalition, in their nine-year war on charities, took the view that charities should be seen and not heard. That environmental charities should plant trees, but couldn’t talk about deforestation. That antipoverty charities could serve in a soup kitchen but couldn’t talk about inequality. And that legal charities could serve clients but couldn’t talk about law reform. 

Katrina Ironside, the Executive Director of Community Legal Centres NSW, “wholeheartedly welcome[ed] this announcement”, saying:

It shifts us from an environment that deterred advocacy to one that embraces it. We’re a sector that really believes that change is possible. And this decision shows that the federal government understands the value of community legal centres as advocates for change.

What does this mean for Justice Connect?

Justice Connect echoes the sentiments expressed by the representatives of the community legal sector and other Australian charities.

As an organisation with an extraordinary depth and breadth of insights into the commonly experienced legal issues, we are glad to once again be able to use our professional experience to advocate for system-level solutions to the problems we observe in our casework.

We can prevent people’s difficult experiences of navigating the legal system if we address the drivers of unmet legal need and improve the legal and justice system.

The lifting of the gag enables us to advocate for the changes we want to see and system-level improvements that will bring our society closer to equality under the law and social justice.

Read more about Justice Connect’s advocacy.

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