Funding cuts are yet to be implemented but the news has already taken its toll on the Western Sydney Community Legal Centre.
The centre is in the process of reviewing its staffing and services to Parramatta residents due to federal government cuts by Attorney General George Brandis. The cuts come into effect July 1.
The Parramatta centre claims it will lose $27,000, or 10 per cent of its funding. Manager Maria Girdler’s position was made redundant last week. The centre has provided free legal advice to residents who don’t qualify for legal aid for more than 20 years in Parramatta.
Formerly known as Macquarie Legal Centre, the Parramatta service amalgamated with Hawkesbury-Nepean and Mount Druitt last year in a bid to continue services in western Sydney following 2014 cuts.
The centre has serviced 3465 clients in the last six months, including 1445 from the Parramatta area.
“Fewer people who need legal advice are going to get assistance,” acting manager Jillian Gientzotis said.
“It’s going to affect disadvantaged people living in poverty, including women suffering domestic violence and the unemployed. It will have a massive impact on people’s lives.”
Community Legal Centres NSW representatives met with federal deputy opposition leader Tanya Plibersek and shadow attorney general Mark Dreyfus last Friday.
According to federal Parramatta MP Julie Owens, Mr Brandis has only visited a handful of community legal centres since he became the Attorney General in 2013.
“Parramatta is a diverse and growing community. Everyone deserves equal access to justice,” she said.
“Labor calls on the government to reverse these cruel cuts as a matter of urgency. Vulnerable people in Parramatta are at risk, and I will continue to advocate on behalf of our community legal centre.”
Ms Gientzotis hasn’t conceded defeat against the cuts. “Certainly there’s always hope," she said.
A spokeswoman for the Attorney General said the federal government will provide than $1.6 billion for legal aid, community legal centres and indigenous legal assistance between 2015 and 2020.
“Commonwealth funding for the Hawkesbury Nepean, Macquarie and Mount Druitt and Area Community Legal Centres, which have now amalgamated to become the Western Sydney Community Legal Centre, has more than doubled since 2010 – going from $603,826 in 2010-11 to $1,232,960 in 2016-17. When in government, Labor, through then Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus allocated an amount of funding but decided it would expire on June 30 2017. This is the ‘Dreyfus funding cliff’ – a direct result of decisions the former Attorney-General made but now, with trademark hypocrisy criticises.”