Amani Haydar speaking at the Social Justice Slam at Bankstown Arts Centre. Credit: Bankstown Poetry Slam, Facebook

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BY JOAN HENSON

Marrickville Legal Centre’s (MLC) managing principal solicitor Vasili Maroulis hopes that a state government funding shortfall, arriving on its anniversary, allows it to survive “another 40 years”.

Last Monday, the Centre, which serves a catchment of 1.5 million and deals mainly with employment law, lost its sole employment solicitor.

“His position will not continue after 30 June and that is a direct result of over $200 000 in funding that is not being renewed,” Mr Maroulis said.

Nicknamed “the war horse,” the affected solicitor largely represents culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) clients, who will be referred to pro bono partners if funding for his position is not forthcoming.

The NSW government’s 3 May 2019-2022 tender allocation increased the sector’s funding pool by $1.86 million in the next financial year.

Ten centres lose funding

However, the peak state body for community legal centres says that the corresponding redistribution of funds will result in 10 centres losing $671,582 in total funding in that same financial year, including the MLC.

Mr Maroulis began managing the MLC eight weeks ago, and is working to limit service reductions as the Centre retains about 62 per cent of its pool one fund.

Despite this, he says reduced funding will have a significant impact on CALD contacts, particularly “our catchment areas in the south west”.

The Centre’s catchment covers 30 per cent of Sydney’s population, according to its website.

Mr Maroulis says there is already a “chronic level of unmet legal need”.

“[The catchment] captures a lot of areas of high level need, so we’re never really able to meet all the demand for our service.”

The MLC received 29,110 calls in the past 12 months, including 9,468 voicemails, which volunteers try to respond to during business hours.

That is an average of 606 calls per week, including 197 voicemails.

In the same 12-month period, 12.5 per cent of MLC’s contacts were referred or turned away.

On 17 May, the MLC partnered with the Bankstown Poetry Slam (BPS) to celebrate its 40th anniversary.

The theme was social justice.

Layla Mkh, BPS alumni, lamented: “… it’s hard for me to comprehend, that this land makes me feel so alone, but I somehow, still call Australia home”.

Another poet, Doug Belton, mused, “politics: powerful promises weaponised, packaged for profit and not for the nickels and dimes”.

The event’s headliner, Amani Haydar, highlighted the problem of unrecognised legal need in a speech.

Ms Haydar is a 2018 Archibald Prize finalist, women’s rights activist, and lawyer.

Her mother was murdered by her father in 2015.

She said that the “core issue” of inequality cannot be addressed in a court trial.

“For example, my mum experienced many years of emotional abuse prior to the murder. Her experience of emotional abuse was not given a voice, because it had been invisible to most people around her, because the law can’t identify it.”

She told City Hub that the poetry line-up expressed how “[CALD] youth navigate their lives through complex experiences of disadvantage and trauma… cuts to community legal centres deepen disadvantage and further isolate vulnerable communities.”

When the tender results were released, Community Legal Centres NSW (CLCNSW) Executive Director Tim Leach requested that the state government “immediately find” the $671,582 in total funding to “restore these valuable programs before the end of the financial year”.

As June approaches, some affected centres are protesting the shortfall.

Northern Rivers Community Legal Centre posted a photograph to Twitter of staff stripped down to a cardboard sign, asking: “what more can they cut from our community legal centre?”

Before the federal election, Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus promised that if elected the ALP would increase Commonwealth community legal centre funding over four years.

It would increase core funding for centres by $20 million, plus $4 million for their national peak body.

Centres’ tender process

In response to April’s federal budget announcement, the national peak body for community legal centres said that it was disappointed there was no additional funding for their organisation, but welcomed a $7.25 million increase over three years for the centres they represent.

In April 2017, the state government introduced $6 million to the sector over two years in response to a pending federal shortfall.

The present state tender process stems from a December 2017 review that recommends an application-based funding model of three-year contracts for all state funding to community legal centres from 2019-2020.

A representative of CLCNSW told City Hub that, “the sector is waiting for a report about the tender process that we expect will shed light on the panel’s recommendations”.

 

Marrickville Legal Centre: (02) 9559 2899
Kids Help Line: 1800 55 1800
1800RESPECT: 1800 737 732
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