Legal centres breathe sigh of relief after funding cuts dropped

Community legal centres are expressing relief that a planned $35 million cut in federal funding at the end of June will not go ahead.


Attorney-General George Brandis has instead announced a funding boost of around $55 million, overriding the cut and adding about $20 million over three years.

“This decision has been made to allocate new money, despite budgetary pressures, because of our acknowledgement of the central importance of what community legal centres do.”

The previously planned cut was a result of old Labor Government funding expiring and further savings measures introduced by then prime minister Tony Abbott.

But centres warned the cuts would force them to drop vulnerable clients and sack lawyers.

The president of the Law Council of Australia, Fiona McLeod, says the reversal comes as a response to a vigorous community campaign.

“We’re very delighted to see that the campaign to restore the funding to the community legal centres and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal centres has been heeded and that the Government will be restoring funding.”

Senator Brandis says the Government has announced the measures two weeks ahead of the May 9th Budget to give the sector more certainty.

“We’re actually announcing this in advance of the Budget because we want to send a very clear signal about where the Government’s priorities lie.”

But while the overall reaction from the sector is one of relief, the timing of the announcement has drawn criticism.

Two legal centres told SBS News they had already sacked lawyers or reduced their hours.

Fiona McLeod says community legal centres had already weathered successive years of funding cuts and had been forced to react to the upcoming plans.

“Unfortunately, it’s come at a stage where some of those legal centres had no certainty about their funding going forward, so some of them would already have been putting in place plans to lay people off and, in some cases — for example, a number of legal centres in South Australia — were looking at closing their doors if they didn’t receive state funding to fill the gap. So this is late in the piece. It is very welcome, but it’s certainly late in the piece in terms of their planning.”

The Opposition has echoed that criticism, with Labor senator Katy Gallagher accusing George Brandis of creating havoc through uncertainty.

“Today, we see this humiliating backflip from him, and yet he still continues to deny any responsibility for the uncertainty and the devastating impact that these potential cuts have caused.”

The legal centres say the new money is a good start now but more is needed.

They are urging the Government to implement a Productivity Commission report that recommended a boost of $200 million for the sector.




Newcomer versus nationalist leader in French run-off

For the first time in modern French history, a mainstream political candidate has not made it to the final round of the presidential race.


Instead, the voters of France have chosen two outsiders to face off for the presidency, newcomer Emmanuel Macron and nationalist leader Marine Le Pen.

Opinion polls consistently project the 39-year-old Mr Macron as the favourite to win the run-off.

He is the youngest-ever French presidential hopeful and has never run for election previously.

Before a cheering crowd of supporters, Mr Macron has called on all what he terms “patriots” to rally behind him against what he calls the “threat” of the nationalists.

“I want to be the president of all the French people, of patriots in the face of the nationalists’ threat. A president who protects, transforms and builds. A president who allows those who want to create, innovate, do business and work to do so more easily and more quickly.”

Mr Macron’s rise has been swift.

He set up his ‘En Marche!’ political movement just a year ago while working as the youngest minister of the economy in the nation’s history.

The former banker framed himself as a progressive who wanted the economy to become more business-friendly in a liberal society.

It is a radically different economic vision to his rival Marine Le Pen, the Eurosceptic and anti-immigration leader of the National Front party.

Speaking to supporters in northern France, Ms Le Pen has called herself “the candidate for the people” and promises to defend France against globalisation.

“The French people must seize this historic opportunity that has opened up to them, because what is at stake in this election is unbridled globalisation, which is threatening our civilisation. The French people have a simple choice: Do we continue on the path of total deregulation, without borders and without protection and, as a consequence, the relocations of jobs, unfair international competition, mass immigration and free movement of terrorists?”

Former prime minister Francois Fillon was knocked out of the race.

Mr Fillon, whose campaign was rocked by corruption allegations, has now called on his supporters to back Mr Macron.

“I am doing this with a heavy heart, but abstention does not run in my genes, especially when an extremist party is getting close to power. The National Front, this party created by Jean-Marie Le Pen, has a history that is known for its violence and for its intolerance. Its social and economic program would lead our country to bankruptcy, and, to this chaos, we would have to add the European chaos, with the exit from the euro. I assure you, extremism can only bring unhappiness and division. There is no other choice but to vote against the far right. I will, therefore, vote in favour of Emmanuel Macron.”

Mr Fillon was tied in third place with fast-rising Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

Mr Melenchon was the leader of a grassroots movement called, in English, Insubmissive France, which had the backing of the Communist Party.

He refused to accept early projections that indicated his defeat and has not been ready to back another candidate in the run-off.

“The challenges that we’ve named, without making light of any and all the difficulties to solve them, the challenges are still yet to be solved. And those who pretend today to have the honour to be representing us all have already demonstrated that they’re incapable to even think about these.”

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has congratulated Emmanuel Macron and wished him well for the run-off election.

Germany has also welcomed Mr Macron’s success in the first round.

Political analysts say Mr Macron’s biggest concern now is to transcend traditional party divides into a working majority.

The head of the University of Sydney’s School of Social and Political Science, Professor Simon Tormey, (TOR-may) says the June run-off will show whether Mr Macron can overcome them.

“His problem is going to be that, because he doesn’t have a party structure behind him, it’s the next step which is going to be difficult. So if he’s elected president, he’s still got to basically earn a majority in the Assemble National. Normally, of course, a president comes in because they’ve been the top candidate from the Socialist party or a right-wing party, and they’ve already got representation in Assemble National.”





Sirens and silence as Israel remembers Holocaust victims

Israelis stood silent and sirens rang out for two minutes on Monday as the country held its annual remembrance of the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust.


Drivers exited their cars and buses ground to a halt, while students at schools marked the two minutes of silence that began at 10:00am local time.

Israeli radio and television stations have aired testimony, documentaries and films on the genocide carried out by the Nazis since Sunday night.

Israelis stand next to their cars as a siren sounds in memory of victims of the Holocaust in Tel Aviv, Israel.AP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened to destroy those who call for the destruction of Israel in a speech at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial to mark the start of commemorations on Sunday night.

“Iran and the Islamic State want to destroy us, and a hatred for Jews is being directed towards the Jewish state today,” he said.

“From being defenceless people, we have become a state with a defensive capacity that is among the strongest in the world,” he said.

He also said that “in our world, the strong survive and the weak are erased.” 

“We learned that in our bones with the Holocaust and it is always present in our minds.”

People stand still on the Mediterranean Sea beachfront in Netanya, Israel.AP

Six Holocaust survivors lit torches at the memorial on Sunday night in memory of the six million Jews massacred by the Nazis during World War II.

The state of Israel was created in 1948 in the wake of the Holocaust as the national home for the Jewish people.

More than 213,000 Holocaust survivors live in Israel today, many of them below the poverty line, according to survivors’ groups.


Disgraced Vic MP will be forced to repay

Victoria’s disgraced former deputy speaker Don Nardella will be forced to repay almost $100,000 he claimed in parliamentary allowances “whether he likes it or not”, the premier has announced.


Daniel Andrews has warned parliament will act against Mr Nardella as part of a major overhaul of MP allowances announced on Monday that aims to make perks and privileges accountable and transparent before “ordinary, hardworking Victorians”.

The overhaul comes after Mr Nardella and former Speaker Telmo Languiller were caught out claiming an allowance to live in coastal towns, instead of their metropolitan electorates.

“If he’s not done the right thing by the time these (reform) bills are in the parliament, which is just in a few weeks’ time, then the parliament will take the matter out of his hands,” Mr Andrews said on Monday.

“Parliament will reclaim the money from him. We will get the money back.”

The second residence allowance was originally designed to help country MPs keep a second home in the city when parliament sits, but loopholes meant Mr Languiller and Mr Nardella could claim the perk, an audit found.

As part of the overhaul, the allowance will now be restricted to only those representing regional seats.

MPs will also no longer be able to roll over travel entitlements from year-to-year or claim the costs of their partner travelling with them.

A parliamentary integrity adviser will be appointed to help MPs make “appropriate” decisions and at least quarterly, MPs will be required to publicly report what allowances or payments had been made to them.

An independent tribunal will also be introduced to set the pay of MPs, public sector executives and office holders.

Mr Languiller has since repaid the $37,800 he claimed, but Mr Nardella has refused Mr Andrews’ demands to hand back the cash.

Since 2010, the metropolitan MP has claimed $174,836 for having a secondary residence.

He first lived in Ballarat with a partner, but when that relationship fell apart in 2014, told parliament officials he moved to the seaside town of Ocean Grove instead of his St Kilda apartment, claiming $98,000 over almost three years.

Mr Andrews says he will seek advice on the best method to reclaim the money.

Opposition Leader Matthew Guy says Mr Andrews has given Mr Nardella a “leave pass” on the eve of Anzac Day to continue drawing a salary from his parliamentary career.

“Don Nardella is the greatest rorter in Victorian parliamentary history. He should be booted out of parliament and made to pay the money back.”

French voters in Australia buck turnout trend

French people living in Australia turned out in force to have their say on France’s next president, with the number of those casting their vote up by 50 per cent on the last election five years ago.


Thousands lined up – some for hours – to have their say in the first round of polling, with queues snaking down streets and around blocks leading up to polling booths.

The French Ambassador to Australia Christophe Lecourtier said the huge turnout showed just how important this election was.


“It is, for the French, the most important political appointment for our democracy,” he told SBS News.

“And what is amazing is that the French that live in Australia have been voting, I mean there have been very, very many and much more than expected, which means that they’re pretty much committed to exercising their rights.

“It was quite unexpected – and when we look at the figures we saw that the participation has increased by 50 per cent compared to the previous elections in 2012 for the current president.

“So that shows that there were many more French living in Australia that have decided that this election was so important that they had to come to the polling stations.”

Watch: French election update with Brett Mason

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The figures for French voters in Australia bucked the trend of the voting turnout in France, where fewer people participated in this election than in 2012.

France’s interior ministry said 78.69 per cent of France’s 47 million registered voters participated this year, down from more than 80 per cent in 2012.

Mr Lecourtier said even more French nationals living in Australia could turn out for the second and final poll on May 7.

“We had exactly the same number of polling stations than in 2012, because the number of electors has just only slightly increased,” he said.

“But what has pretty much increased is the number of people who have decided that they really needed, they really wanted to come to the polling station yesterday.”

The ambassador said the embassy was working to improve how the next round of voting would be organised, so the queues would be shorter.

Watch: I want to become your president: Macron

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“We hope to be able to manage in a better way the number of French that will come on the 7th of May, because we expect as many as yesterday to come and maybe even more, taking into the account the importance of that election,” Mr Lecourtier said.

Voters in Australia are eagerly awaiting the final poll which will determine whether Emmanuel Macron or Marine Le Pen will be the next President.

“I don’t think anyone is really surprised or even worried. She (Le Pen) is not going to make it. It’s sad that she made it to the second round but no one can say that it is a surprise,” said Margaux Pinson, who lives in Sydney.

Ms Pinson was one of many who queued for hours to cast their vote.

Watch: Le Pen through to French run-off

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“It was a bit nice to see all the French people. There are actually a lot of French people in Sydney, I was really surprised and I think everyone in the line was very surprised as well,” Ms Pinson said.

Karolina Rouvier, 20, voted in Melbourne and had a similar experience.

“There were so many people so I decided to come back later. So I came back at 6.30pm and there were so many people still, so I think I waited for two hours to vote at the election,” Ms Rouvier said.