NSW Attorney-General to announce $6m rescue package for legal centres

The state’s new Attorney-General, Mark Speakman, will announce a $6 million rescue package for community legal centres to fix a federal government funding shortfall that was set to plunge the sector into crisis.
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In one of his first decisions in his new role, Mr Speakman will announce the two-year funding boost on Wednesday.

Community legal centres, which provide free legal advice to vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, were facing a wave of job losses and closures from July 1 as federal funding was set to be slashed by 30 per cent.

In NSW, this translated to a cut of about $3 million a year.

Mr Speakman had urged the federal government to “rethink its position” before the May budget but had not received a commitment from his federal counterpart, George Brandis.

The funding package is expected to save 30 lawyer positions in Sydney and across the state, and prevent the closure of community legal centres in Katoomba and Tweed Heads.

Under the first year of the deal, funding for legal centres will be maintained at existing levels so that no centre is worse off as a result of the federal cuts.

A review will be conducted during financial year 2017-18 to determine how the second year of funding is distributed between legal centres.

Mr Speakman said the package was “a major win for vulnerable and disadvantaged people across the state who rely on CLC lawyers for free advice on critical issues … ranging from domestic violence and victims’ support to debts and tenancy disputes”.

Community Legal Centres NSW chair Linda Tucker, who campaigned for the funding, welcomed the announcement and said the federal government now needed to “chip in their fair share, so CLCs can meet existing demand and ensure that everyone has access to justice”.

“From tenancy and debt help, to child protection and domestic violence, the early intervention work of community legal centres saves people from further emotional and physical harm, preventing knock-on effects across the wider justice and health systems,” Dr Tucker said.

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