Legal centre rescued by state government

Community Legal Centres - including the Macarthur based organisation - will not receive a shortfall in funding after the state government stepped in fill a funding shortfall created gby the federal government.
Community Legal Centres - including the Macarthur based organisation - will not receive a shortfall in funding after the state government stepped in fill a funding shortfall created gby the federal government.

NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman has come to the rescue after the federal government cut funding aimed at helping Macarthur’s most vulnerable residents.

The federal government recently announced it would reduce the amount of funding for community free legal centres by about 23 per cent which would have forced some to close and others to rethink the scope of their operations.

The legal centres provide free legal advice – particularly for domestic violence cases – and assistance to those on low incomes.

While the existence of the Macarthur Legal Centre was not under threat, the ability of the organisation to reach the community would have been affected, the centre’s executive officer Robert Pelletier said.

“If we lost 30 per cent of funding – which would have been the worst case scenario – we would have just become a referral service,” he said.

“We would have had to shut down our 15 outreach services in Macarthur.

“We work with people who don’t have any hope of accessing legal assistance … and a lot of that work involves (victims of) domestic violence and families involved with FACS (Family and Community Services).

“This funding will keep us going for three more years.”

Macarthur Law Society president Brett McGrath said the centre provided an “essential service” for those in need and any cuts in funding could have “restricted the ability of those at the centre to do their job”.

“If you are faced with a legal question or challenge it can be quite daunting and the centre is the first point of call you can go to get assistance,” he said.

“The case loads for workers down there are already quite substantial.”

Mr Speakman said the funding would ensure those who needed the free service were not left out in the cold.

"This is a major win for vulnerable and disadvantaged people across the state who rely on CLC (Community Legal Centre) lawyers for free advice on critical issues in both the civil and criminal sphere,” he said.

"The NSW Government is stepping in to secure the immediate future of CLCs, while continuing to work towards a sustainable long-term solution.”

A spokeswoman for federal Attorney General, Senator George Brandis, said “state and territories are responsible” for allocating federal government funding to the centres.

Mr McGrath said Mr Speakman should be applauded chipping in $6 million over the next two years.

“Particularly for victims of domestic violence this service is very critical in this area at the moment,” he said.

“The local area professionals welcome this announcement and it’s a positive sign the NSW Government is investing in justice infrastructure.”