It is my pleasure to present my rst report as Chairperson of Community Legal Centres NSW (CLCNSW). I became chairperson in November 2013, following a three-year term by Anna Cody of Kingsford Legal Centre. I thank Anna Cody for her guidance and leadership of CLCNSW during some very challenging times.
I would like to acknowledge and pay respects to the Traditional Owners and the Elders of the land where CLCNSW is located, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, and further acknowledge that all CLCs are located on the traditional lands of different Aboriginal nations in NSW.
As in previous years, 2013/14 has presented a range of challenges and opportunities, at local, state and federal levels. Once again, funding issues have featured prominently, along with more reviews of legal assistance programs, and restrictions on our law reform and systemic policy work. The challenges have kept all us busy and I am pleased to report that CLC staff, CLCNSW staff and the CLCNSW Board have worked well together. I believe it is important to present a united front when confronting adverse challenges. CLCs have a long history and tradition of collaboration on common issues. Our activities for 2013/14, as reported in this year’s annual report, are testimony to this.
Funding increases, then funding cuts
The 2013/14 year began with a real sense of optimism for the national CLC sector when we received from the then Attorney- General, Mark Dreyfus QC MP, an additional $33.5m over four years. This funding represented a 25% increase in Commonwealth funding for CLCs – the largest ever in many years. For a number of NSW CLCs this money was much needed and meant that they could keep their doors open. For all CLCs that were recipients of this money, it allowed some real long-term planning and the ability to provide some security of employment for staff. CLCNSW itself was a beneficiary of some of this money through a small grant towards its Accreditation Program for 2013/14. CLCNSW, along with all across the CLC sector, was encouraged by the confidence the then government showed in the work of CLCs.
It was then with a real sense of dismay to learn, as the year progressed, that the above funding, along with other CLC funding, would not continue into future years. While we appreciate that these are fiscally constrained times, these cuts will mean a necessary reduction in services and have drastic long-term consequences for all members of the community whose access to justice will be significantly reduced as a result. CLCs had used the promised 4-year funding to maintain and expand their services. As an example, Aboriginal workers were employed to commence outreach services in rural and remote areas. With the withdrawal of this funding, such employment is now either at risk or will cease at the end of June 2015.
At State level, programs funded by the NSW Public Purpose Fund (PPF) took a particularly deep cut, including a 27% reduction in funding to the Aboriginal Legal Access Program. Many CLCs rely significantly on PPF funding to run a range of programs, including outreach to remote areas, and information and advice to targeted groups in the community, such as older persons, ATSI communities and LGBTI people. We understand the cuts to range between 10% and 50%. Programs and CLCs affected include the Children’s Court Assistance Scheme, EDO NSW, PIAC, and TARS. We also note that our colleagues in the justice sector have also been affected by the PPF cuts. These include our colleagues at Legal Aid NSW, the Law & Justice Foundation, LIAC, LawAccess and the Law Society. Regrettably, the CLCNSW Sector Development Program has had its entire PPF funding discontinued effective 1 July 2014. This has impacted on CLCNSW’s ability to provide a comprehensive suite of professional development opportunities to the sector.
We are working with our member CLCs to support them as they manage their own funding cuts. Further, we are working with government and justice sector colleagues to address issues of sustainability of CLC funding. Over many years, CLCNSW has taken the position that the NSW Government, not the PPF, should provide core recurrent funding for CLCs. In these uncertain times for the PPF, we believe it is past time that the NSW Government makes a rm commitment to providing secure funding for CLCs, as they work towards providing equal access to justice to those most vulnerable in the community.
Reviews of CLCs and other public legal assistance providers
As in previous years, CLC programs and service delivery have been the focus of government attention. This year, we saw the release of the report of the review of the National Partnership Agreement (NPA) on Legal Assistance Services and a lot of activity with the Productivity Commission’s inquiry into access to justice arrangements.
The review of the NPA commenced at the end of 2011/12. The NPA provides Commonwealth funding to public legal services, including CLCs, legal aid commissions and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services. The Review was undertaken by the Allen Consulting Group (now ACIL Allen Consulting). CLCNSW provided a response to the draft Evaluation Framework and participated in discussions with Commonwealth representatives, such as at Jurisdictional forums at the NLAF meetings. The draft report was provided to the Rudd Government shortly before it went into caretaker mode before the 2013 election. After a long delay, it was finally released in July 2014. The report, unsurprisingly in our view, concluded that legal assistance service providers are, in the main, providing appropriate quality services to disadvantaged Australians.
In June 2013 the Australian Government announced that the Productivity Commission would examine how to improve access to justice in Australia. Amongst its terms of reference, the Commission was asked to look into an assessment of the real costs of legal representation and trends over time; an assessment of the level of demand for legal services; and the impact of the costs of accessing justice services, and securing legal representation, on the effectiveness of these services. CLCNSW, along with many of its member CLCs, NACLC, other CLC State/Territory CLC associations, and legal assistance provider colleagues played an active role in the inquiry, including providing submissions to the issues paper and draft report, and appearing at its Sydney public hearing. At the time of this annual report, the final report has been completed and sent to the Australian Government for its consideration. We await its release in the near future.
Rollover of funding agreements for CLCs
CLCs in NSW are mostly funded through the tripartite Commonwealth-NSW Community Legal Services Program (CLSP) agreement, administered by Legal Aid NSW. At literally the last minute, we were advised that our funding effective 1 July 2014 would be rolled over for a further 12-month period. The agreements provided to CLCs for this period had a range of variations, a number of which were significant in nature. The variation of most concern was the removal by the Commonwealth Government of law reform from the list of funded activities, as well as the removal of a clause which provided that Commonwealth agreements did not contain provisions that could stifle ‘legitimate debate’ or ‘advocacy activities’, including limiting an organisation’s ‘right to enter into criticism of the Commonwealth’.
CLCNSW naturally viewed this action on the part of the Commonwealth with concern. We believe that CLCs should have reasonably unfettered freedom to advocate on behalf of their clients; undertaking law reform is certainly a reasonable action to do so. It was therefore very pleasing to see the NSW Attorney General, the Hon. Brad Hazzard, allow for law reform activities to be included in the definition of State funded activities. We applaud him for his position on this and thank him for his support of CLC work in this area.
Launch of the CLCNSW Reconciliation Action Plan
In July 2014, I was delighted to be part of the launch of CLCNSW’s Reconciliation Action Plan 2014-2017 (the RAP). The RAP has been developed to provide our organisation and our member CLCs with a clear way to develop and implement strategies that will enable us to address significant barriers that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples face in access to justice. We are committed to ensuring that the perspectives, values and experiences of CLC staff, clients and stakeholders are valued, respected and acknowledged in all levels of service delivery for CLCs. More details of the RAP are provided elsewhere in the annual report.
It has been yet another busy year for the state of ce. Detailed reports and highlights for the State Of ce and its committees and networks are found elsewhere in the annual report.
I thank staff for their efforts supporting, coordinating and leading the sector through their work for CLCNSW.
In looking ahead to 2014/15, there is no doubt that there are going to be some signi cant challenges as we start to see the consequences of the recent and ongoing funding cuts. We will continue to monitor and respond to the interest that the Australian and NSW Governments have in CLC activities, with particular regard to funding for CLCs. We also look forward to working with our member CLCs on all relevant issues, including the development of our new strategic plan to replace the current one which ends in June 2015.
Next year, 2015, marks 40 years since the CLC movement began in NSW. A small and committed number of legal and non-legal professionals got together in a community hall in June 1975 to discuss how they could regain community control of legal services. From these humble beginnings began the establishment of community legal centres, commencing with Redfern Legal Centre in 1977. In 40 years we have withstood many challenges to our work; I have no doubt that we will continue to withstand and meet further challenges as they arise in the future.
Funding and support
On behalf of the Board, I would like to thank the following individuals and organisations for their support during the year:
The Hon. Brad Hazzard MP, NSW Attorney General.
Greg Smith SC MP, former NSW Attorney General.
The Hon. Mark Dreyfus QC MP, former Federal Attorney-General, particularly through the allocation of new funding for CLCs in the 2013 Federal Budget.
The Hon. Senator George Brandis QC, Federal Attorney-General.
Mr Andrew Cappie-Wood, Secretary, NSW Department of Justice.
Mr John McKenzie, Chief Legal Of cer of the ALS NSW/ACT and Legal Aid Board member.
Mr Bill Grant OAM, CEO of Legal Aid NSW.
Ms Bronwyn McCutcheon, CLC Funding Program Manager, Legal Aid NSW, and her team of Mr Benjamin Dougall, Mr Alfred Swe, Ms Tanya Finneran and Ms Timika Williams.
Ms Michelle Jones, Program Manager, Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Scheme.
Staff at Legal Aid NSW; in particular Richard Funston, Monique Hitter, Kylie Beckhouse, Annmarie Lumsden, Sue Scott, Jane Cipants, and Jenny Lovric.
The Trustees and Administrator of the NSW Public Purpose Fund.
Mr Geoff Mulherin, Ms Jane Kenny, and the staff at the Law and Justice Foundation of NSW.
Mr Michael Smith, National Convenor, Ms Julia Hall, Executive Director, and the staff of the National Association of CLCs.
The staff at LawAccess NSW.
My thanks also to my fellow Board members for their expertise and commitment to CLCNSW over the past 12 months. I thank in particular Rachel Burns, who resigned as Treasurer in July 2014. Her oversight of the CLCNSW accounts and nancial management was very much appreciated. I also acknowledge the work of the convenors and co-convenors of the CLCNSW networks and thank them for their commitment and dedication. If not for them, the sector would not be as informed and united as it is on the various issues that we work on.
Finally, I would like to thank the management committees, staff and volunteers of CLCs in NSW for their ongoing commitment in delivering access to justice and without whom, many disadvantaged people and communities would not get the legal help they need.