Jenny Leong call for greater funding for Community Legal Centres

Greens Member for Newtown, Jenny Leong has called on the Liberal/National Government to properly invest in Community Legal Centres in recognition of their vital work.


By leave: On behalf of The Greens I strongly support the incredible work of each community legal centre [CLC] in New South Wales. I thank the member for Camden for bringing this issue to the House. The electorate of Newtown is lucky enough to be home to a significant number of CLCs, including the head office of Community Legal Centres NSW, and we have the opportunity to work closely with many of them. They perform a vital role in our community, working every day to provide assistance to people experiencing financial hardship, discrimination, domestic violence, tenancy issues and other forms of disadvantage. That is assistance that people would not receive if community legal centres did not exist. The centres also help to shape and guide policy and laws. They also advocate to address inequality in our communities and inconsistencies in our laws.

I acknowledge the additional funding that flowed to the community legal sector as part of the Federal Government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This was much needed because, as the pandemic unfolded, CLCs across the State were faced with a drastic increase in the number of people accessing their services and requiring vital support. I note that, unlike Victoria, the New South Wales Liberal-Nationals Government did not match the Commonwealth funding boost for frontline legal assistance services and they remain in desperate need of increased and secure funding to properly deliver their services. It is crucial that community legal centres receive stable funding that is based on careful analysis of legal need.

Every member in this place can talk about the value of community legal centres. We must ensure that the centres have stable funding to enable them to strategically plan for and maintain adequate levels of service delivery in their communities. Consistency is key. Right now, CLCs are in need of additional funding to meet a rising demand for services caused by crises such as the current pandemic and the bushfires; to fill service gaps in rural, regional and remote areas; to deliver State Government assistance to support the New South Wales operations of four nationally operating community legal centres; and to improve access to justice for families engaged with the child protection system and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We know that community legal centres, like many other organisations, have made pre-budget submissions. I urge the Treasurer to consider those requests closely.

It is urgently important that the Government invest an additional $11.68 million per year over the next four years into the community legal sector, which should include increased general funding for community legal centres to address unmet need and to improve access to justice for people experiencing domestic and family violence. In addition, we would all agree that the incarceration rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is a key concern and one that community legal centres are well placed to address. We and the centres are urging the Treasurer to commit $19.3 million over the next five years to ensure the full implementation of all 125 recommendations from the independent review of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care in New South Wales.

It is absolutely crucial that community legal centres are properly funded before people's problems spiral out of control, pushing them into poverty, homelessness and debt and increasing their interactions with public hospitals, police, courts, prisons and systems providing out-of-home care. Community legal centres do vital work. I thank those centres in the electorate of Newtown, including the Australian Centre for Disability Law, the Court Support Scheme, the Financial Rights Legal Centre, the HIV/AIDS Legal Centre, the Intellectual Disability Rights Service, the Criminal Justice Support Network, the Greater Sydney Aboriginal Tenants Service, the Redfern Legal Centre, the Refugee Advice & Casework Service, the Tenants' Union of NSW, the Seniors Rights Service, the Older Persons Legal Service, the Welfare Rights Centre and—just over the border of the electorate of Newtown—the Marrickville Legal Centre and Aboriginal Women's Legal Centre. I thank all community legal centres in the electorate of Newtown for their incredible work.

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