Community legal centres in NSW are funded jointly by the Commonwealth and NSW Governments under the National Legal Assistance Partnership, which runs until 2025. NLAP envisages a vibrant legal assistance sector with the different components – such as Legal Aid Commissions, Aboriginal Legal Services, Family Violence Prevention Legal Services and Community Legal Centres – all being supported to deliver their unique contributions to justice.
NLAP discourages State Governments from outsourcing the management of one legal assistance sector to another (clause 29). Where a State Government insists on outsourcing this function, it must meet other requirements as specified in NLAP (clause 29). The NSW Government has delegated responsibility for managing the community legal centres program to Legal Aid NSW.
It is the strongly held view of Community Legal Centres NSW, and of its national peak body Community Legal Centres Australia, that this delegation is an abrogation of the NSW Government’s responsibilities. Legal Aid NSW agrees that this delegation is inappropriate, and a distraction from Legal Aid NSW’s core work. These positions have been expressed multiple times to the NSW Government.
Community Legal Centres NSW argues that this delegation is problematic for many reasons:
- It creates an uneven playing field, particularly when it comes to resource allocation. While community legal centres and Legal Aid NSW collaborate well, they are occasionally competitors for the same funds. While Community Legal Centres NSW advocates adequate funding for all legal assistance providers, it accepts, with some regret, the competitive nature of legal assistance sector funding. However, the fact that Legal Aid NSW is a government agency, together with its size and consequent power within the legal assistance sector, has created a playing field that is far from even. Legal Aid NSW gets the lion’s share of all new funding and Community Legal Centres NSW believes it is awarded funds where it is not the provider best positioned to make use of them.
- The work of community legal centres is being monitored and reported to government by an agency with different objectives and a completely different service model. Legal Aid NSW does not and should not be expected to fully understand either the motivations or the work of the community legal sector, and it cannot report fairly to government on the sector’s work.
- Having delegated its NLAP responsibilities, the NSW Government has disconnected itself from the communities these centres serve. Community legal centres are embedded within communities and provide services to more than 53,000 people each year. They are often the first to pick up trends in the legal problems being experienced by disadvantaged communities, and they are the keenest observers of often innovative community efforts to overcome the legal problems they face. This is critical data from the coalface, and Government should avail itself of this information as a priority, not delegate synthesis of this data to an agency with different priorities and a different service model.
- Delegation is not supported by any part of the legal assistance sector. If all components of the state justice response are saying something is a bad idea, it is probably a bad idea.
Summary of hearing
Mr MARK SPEAKMAN, the Attorney General, and Minister for Prevention of Domestic and Sexual Violence | Download supplementary answers
Under the National Legal Assistance Partnership 2020-2025 (NLAP), states and territories may delegate all aspects of the administration of Commonwealth funding for Community Legal Centres, except for funding allocation decisions to individual Community Legal Centres. Where delegated to a legal assistance provider, these costs can be met using NLAP baseline funds (cl. 55). The NLAP prevents NSW from using NLAP baseline funds for this purpose (cl. 56). On the advice of the Department of Communities and Justice, responsibility for the administration of Commonwealth funding for Community Legal Centres in NSW has been delegated to Legal Aid NSW’s Community Legal Centres Program (CLCP) Unit. The CLCP Unit also administers state funding to Community Legal Centres. Legal Aid NSW does not make funding allocation decisions in relation to individual Community Legal Centres.