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March 22, 2023

Less legal centre funding could hurt the most vulnerable: Saffin

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NSW attorney-general Mark Speakman

A new competitive tendering process for community legal centres, introduced by the NSW government, has seen a reduction in funding according to Lismore MP Janelle Saffin.

Saffin called on NSW attorney-general Mark Speakman to rethink a ‘$50,340-a-year funding shortfall to the Lismore- based Northern Rivers Community Legal Centre, which took effect on July 1 for the next three years’.

She says, ‘The centre has a long and proud history over 20 years of providing legal help to the most vulnerable in our communities – clients experiencing family and domestic violence, Indigenous clients, older people, children and youth.’

‘This funding shortfall poses a very real threat to the centre’s outreach services to areas like Murwillumbah, Tweed Heads, Pottsville, or Casino. The centre has only recently added outreach to Kyogle and Grafton.’

Claims not refuted

While NSW attorney-general Mark Speakman’s office did not refute the claims, a spokesperson told The Echo he boosted funding ‘for the Northern Rivers Community Legal Centre over and above the recommendations’ of an independent review.

Speakman’s spokesperson told The Echo, ‘The NSW government’s investment in community legal centres (CLCs) is currently at record levels, having increased 85 per cent since 2015–16’.

‘More than $40m have been allocated over the next three years to support frontline workers providing free legal help to some of the most vulnerable members of our community.

2017 review

‘Following a threatened cut in federal funding in 2017, I provided a $6m rescue pack- age to the sector and asked Alan Cameron AO to conduct a review of CLC funding. ‘As a consequence of the extra NSW funding, and pending the outcome of the Cameron review, some CLCs received interim extra fund- ing in 2017–18 and 2018–19. ‘The Cameron Review resulted in a competitive tender process where an independent panel considered applications from eligible organisations against known criteria that emphasised helping people with the greatest legal need and services that provided value for taxpayers’ money.

‘I accepted all the panel’s recommendations, except for ensuring that no CLC providing free legal help to vulnerable members of the community would be worse off than its pre-rescue allocation in 2016–17’.

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