The state government has guaranteed the Western NSW Community Legal Centre in Dubbo will get a share of $15 million in new funding so it can continue delivering free legal support to local people in need.
Community Legal Centre’s (CLCs) are community-based not for profit organisations that provide free legal help to people who are experiencing disadvantage. In 2016–17, CLCs provided assistance to more than 52,000 people at over 30 locations across metropolitan, regional and rural NSW.
Member for Dubbo Troy Grant said vulnerable people rely on CLCs for help on a myriad of issues including domestic violence, debt, tenancy disputes and the care and protection of children.
“In many instances, their work helps to more quickly resolve matters before they are escalated to the courts, saving thousands in legal costs, reducing stress and alleviating pressure on the justice system.” Mr Grant said.
“Importantly, funding will be delivered in three-year cycles so local Community Legal Centres can plan for the future without fear that the well will run dry.
“The Western CLC is guaranteed a share of the $15 million in new funding over four years; the specific amount will be determined in consultation with Legal Aid NSW and the CLC sector, based on the needs and demand for the Western centre.”
Western NSW Community Legal Centre’s Principal Solicitor Patrick O’Callaghan said the NSW government clearly understands and supports the vital work done by community legal centres across NSW.
However, Mr O’Callaghan said the legal centre was unsure how the funding announcement would directly benefit it.
“We do not yet know what changes to funding this announcement means for us, so it is difficult to indicate how we intend to use any extra funding obtained by the CLC,” he said. “However, if extra resourcing permits, we would like to engage and develop relationships with the health sector across the region to facilitate further referrals of clients experiencing legal issues.”
People’s legal issues create health problems which often sees them engaging with their doctors before anyone else.
“Increased funding, together with a move to three-year funding cycles which allows for long-term planning of service delivery, ultimately benefits those experiencing disadvantage and tackling complex legal and non-legal issues.”
Mr O’Callaghan said community legal centres help people and communities with their everyday problems.
“Without early legal assistance with issues such as domestic violence, family law, debts, contact with children in foster care and employment law, matters can escalate and cause serious financial, social and health problems,” he said.
Attorney General Mark Speakman said the government’s investment in CLCs would enable them to continue to provide a complete range of legal assistance, including free information and advice, community education and casework.
The plan also includes an innovative solution to providing CLCs with a permanent source of extra funding.
After talks with the NSW Law Society Council, the government will legislate to use the interest generated on half of an $88 million fund for the benefit of CLCs. The other half of the funds will be returned to the reserves of Lawcover Pty Ltd, the NSW legal profession’s insurer.
“Under the proposed legislation, $44 million will be allocated to a ‘future fund’, with the interest used exclusively to fund CLCs,” Mr Speakman said.