NSW legal services boosted
The NSW Government has launched a $6 million community legal centre rescue package.
The funds should cover about 30 solicitors for community legal centres across the state, filling a gap left by Federal Government funding cuts.
For many centres, it was a welcome and surprising announcement.
“I didn't expect [the announcement] really. It's been quite a long time that we knew this funding cliff was coming, so we started to do some projections,” said Arlia Fleming, managing principal solicitor at the Elizabeth Evatt Community Legal Centre in the Blue Mountains, which offers legal assistance to parts of regional NSW.
“[Without the funds] we probably would have reduced our weekly outreach to Lithgow, and we might have had to close our Katoomba office to the public for one or two days a week.”
The Law Society of NSW says community legal centres were able to help 55,000 people in NSW last year, but was forced to turn away 34,000 due to a lack of resources.
“We didn't [expect today's announcement], we were of course very hopeful that the pleas we had been making publicly for funding would fall on sympathetic ears,” Law Society president Pauline Wright told the ABC.
“For now it's going to plug a really big hole for funding in community legal centres across NSW.
“There are 37 centres in NSW and some of them were going to be facing cuts of more than 20 per cent, which is really significant when they're already underfunded.”
But Ms Wright said the Federal Government was still leaving big gaps in community legal funding around Australia.
“We will most definitely be continuing the campaign on the federal level,” she said.
“We see this really essential injection of funds of $6 million as being something really welcome that's going to signal to the Federal Government that they should come to the table too.”
The Office of the Federal Attorney-General has issued a statement saying the Government will provide more than $1.6 billion for legal aid, community legal centres and Indigenous legal assistance between 2015 and 2020.
“On top of this, the Turnbull Government has provided an extra $45 million for frontline legal assistance services as part of its $200 million investment to reduce violence against women and children,” it stated.
“The Australian Government welcomes the news that states are injecting funding into Community Legal Centres.”