The first queries about everyday legal issues have already started flowing to a new free service for Aboriginal community members at Dubbo.
Legal Aid NSW launched the outreach initiative at Apollo House on Monday, and will be back at the community centre twice a month.
The organisation has started the new service in a bid to give people advice in civil law areas at an earlier stage, and prevent issues from growing.
Legal Aid NSW lawyer Maureen Bates-McKay specialises in working with Aboriginal communities to address everyday legal worries and will return regularly to Apollo House.
Originally from Bourke, she said local people could get free advice on a range of issues, from debts and utility bills, to phone contracts and Centrelink problems, to funeral insurance, fines and payday loans.
“Many people will put up with a legal problem for far too long, because they think sorting it out will be too difficult, or because they don’t recognise that it’s a ‘legal’ problem at all,” Ms Bates-McKay said.
“But you have nothing to lose by dropping by for a confidential discussion about your situation.
“We can help you understand your rights and you legal options so that you can tackle your legal problem head-on.”
Senior lawyer Justine Conaty says she regularly hears from families who are renting their home and need advice.
“When it comes to those everyday legal issues, housing and money worries are the most common issues we help people with when we’re working with Aboriginal communities,” Ms Conaty said.
“Problems with landlords, difficulties paying rent or getting repairs done and eviction threats can be extremely stressful.
“So we want to make sure community members here in Dubbo know where to turn for independent advice and assistance they can rely on.
“This new service will complement the regular legal services Legal Aid NSW offers in Dubbo across a broad range of areas of law.”
A Legal Aid NSW lawyer will be at Apollo House on the first and third Monday of each month during the school term, from 10.30am to 12.30pm, at 9 Collins Avenue.
People can make an appointment by calling (02) 6881 8756, or simply drop in.
Wiradjuri elder Riverbank Frank Doolan attended the launch, which included kids activities, and thanked Legal Aid NSW for providing much-needed service.
“If people are informed, even just a little bit, about their rights as far as civil law goes, it can mean a lot of things don’t end up in criminal law courts and clog up the criminal justice system with things that are really petty matters,” he said.