Calls for increased funding to community legal centres in NSW Parliament


Members of Parliament recently took the opportunity to sing the praises of community legal centres in NSW Parliament. Many called for greater investment in our sector in recognition of the vital services that we provide and the role we play in shaping progressive law reform. 

The speeches came in response to a motion moved by Member for Camden Peter Sidgreaves, which acknowledged the Commonwealth Government’s injection of $5.43 million into the NSW community legal centre sector in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. While extremely welcome, this injection was insufficient to enable centres to meet the increases in need resulting from COVID-19.

Read the full transcript of speeches.

Read our 2021-22 Pre-Budget Submission.


Calls for increased funding

There is no shortage of legal need in NSW. Despite recent funding injections, many community legal centres struggle to meet demand for services. As a sector, we're in need of significant government investment. 

Jenny Leong, Member for Newtown, calls for greater investment in community legal centres.

Community legal centres make a little go a long way. We are well-recognised as effective and efficient service providers. As Shadow Attorney General Paul Lynch said:

There is not one part of the legal system that delivers such valuable services for so little money. [...] CLCs survive on the smell of an oily rag. I know it is more complex than just saying this, but if there is one group in our society that merits more funding it is community legal centres.

In line with our 2021-22 Pre-Budget Submission, Jenny Leong MP called upon the government to invest an additional $11.68 million per year over the next four years into the community legal sector.

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.

David Harris MP highlighted how increased investment can address the issue of unmet legal need in his community on the Central Coast: 

The [Central Coast Community Legal Centre] is severely underfunded. For every person the staff see, there are probably three or four others they could be helping.

Sophie Costis MP echoed the need for additional investment in the community legal sector, so that we are able to respond to the impacts of crises such as COVID-19: 

Every year we make additional representations to government, asking it to provide additional funding to the legal centres. People in my community from low socio-economic backgrounds, the working poor or from migrant or refugee backgrounds find accessing legal services very difficult. [...]  an annual funding envelope of $11.6 million is required, and the Government should really consider that.


We support our communities in times of need

A number of MPs acknowledged the critical role community legal centres play in supporting people experiencing financial hardship and tough times in their communities.

Paul Lynch, Shadow Attorney General and Member for Liverpool, recognises the vital work that community legal centres do in law reform and supporting communities in hardship. 

There is not one part of the legal system that delivers such valuable services for so little money. It takes a particular commitment to work in that sector, and they do very important work.

- Paul Lynch, Shadow Attorney General, Member for Liverpool

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.

- Jenny Leong, Member for Newtown

We are very proud to support CLCs deliver more services to victim‑survivors, hold perpetrators to account, help victim–survivors escaping violent households and ultimately save lives. 

- Nathanial Smith, Member for Wollondilly


We play a significant role in shaping law reform

One of the important things that sets community legal centres apart is the bold advocacy and law reform that we do on behalf of our communities, which MPs recognised:

One cannot seriously attempt to be the shadow Attorney General in this State without paying a lot of attention to the advice one has from the individuals CLCs and also from the peak body whose chief executive officer is Tim Leach. Their advice and recommendations seem to me almost always correct. 

- Paul Lynch, Shadow Attorney General, Member for Liverpool

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.

- Jenny Leong, Member for Newtown

The second significant thing is that CLCs often deal with the most marginalised and dispossessed people in our communities. They are the people at the coalface dealing with some of our most intractable social problems. The advantage of that is that they are an invaluable source of advice. 

- Paul Lynch, Shadow Attorney General, Member for Liverpool


Recognising our people 

We're not just a sector - we are a dynamic movement of advocates, service providers and activists. It was great to see MPs acknowledge that what makes us special are the committed and passionate people who day in, day out show up for our communities in times of need.

David Harris, Member for Wyong, acknowledges the important work that Central Coast Community Legal Centre for their local community.

I mention in particular two legal centres—the ones that I am physically closest to. The first is the South West Sydney Legal Centre, which is fortuitously located just upstairs from my office. Its staff do an immense amount of work over a whole range of projects. I have been particularly impressed with the work they have done with victims and survivors of domestic violence. It has been particularly important. 

- Paul Lynch, Shadow Attorney General, Member for Liverpool

My office does a lot of work with Marrickville Legal Centre, Redfern Legal Centre and a number of Indigenous legal centres. [...] I acknowledge all the people who work for community legal centres. We work well with them, but they are overwhelmed with important work. I call on the Government to provide additional funding. 

- Sophie Costis, Member for Canterbury

Macarthur Legal Centre also does a great deal of important work relating to survivors of domestic violence. I have had more than the odd dealing with its staff over the years about that. They do terribly important and useful work.

 Paul Lynch, Shadow Attorney General, Member for Liverpool

I acknowledge the incredible job that the staff and board members do at Central Coast Community Legal Centre. During several visits, including one at the end of last year, I have seen the incredible work they are doing.

- David Harris, Member for Wyong 

I thank all community legal centres in the electorate of Newtown for their incredible work. 

- Jenny Leong, Member for Newtown