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Justice funding in NSW budget divides profession

The justice funding announced in the NSW budget has been commended by the Law Society for making a “real impact”, but its praise was not shared by Community Legal Centres that instead criticised it as a missed opportunity to allocate funds elsewhere.  

user iconNaomi Neilson 24 June 2021 Big Law
Juliana Warner
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Under the NSW 2020-21 budget, frontline domestic and sexual violence services, extended programs and additional magistrates and resources in courts have been made a priority. While welcomed by the Law Society president Juliana Warner, some legal groups said that no new, real investments have been made in the community.  

Ms Warner especially welcomed the additional $60 million to strengthen frontline services across NSW and $5.5 million in capital expenditure for Domestic Violence Saferooms in up to 44 courts in priority locations for remote evidence. 

“I appreciate that the NSW government’s immediate priority is to ensure that our state is COVID-safe, boost economic recovery and support and protect communities and families,” Ms Warner said, adding that she is also particularly happy with the government’s support on victim-survivors and their children with the $32.5 million provided over four years to expand the Staying Home Leaving Violence program. 

 
 

In addition, a $56.1 million funding boost will be distributed over four years to appoint eight new magistrates and increase resources for prosecutors, Legal Aid and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. Almost $28 million will assist in the expansion of the Drug Court and another $28 million has been invested into the Justice Advocacy Service and the establishment of a court-based diversion program. 

Community Legal Centres (CLC) NSW said that while it welcomes the investment in frontline domestic violence services and the expansion of the Drug Court, it is concerned with the absence of specific funding to implement the recommendations of The Special Commission of Inquiry into the Drug Ice.

“The budget delivers no new investment in the community legal assistance sector, nor in community-based measures to address deaths in custody and the ongoing over-incarceration of First Nations people in NSW. It also delivers grossly insufficient investment in social housing to meet the state’s chronic housing crisis,” CLC said. 

Instead, it said the government had allocated those funds to police and prisons, with $41.5 million invested in an extra 250 officers along with record capital investments in police station upgrades, equipment and expanding the state’s prison system. 

CLC added that the $12 million slated to promote the permanent adoption and guardianship of children in out-of-home care would have also been better spent elsewhere in keeping kids with their family and kin. 

“Our vision for justice is grounded in our everyday work supporting people experiencing disadvantage, discrimination and violence manage their legal problems. We know what works to build stronger communities and to reduce harmful interactions with the criminal legal system,” CLC executive director Tim Leach said. 

“Communities have the solutions to deliver a more just future. We just need the government to invest in them.” 

Other investments include:

  • An extra $32.5 million over four years to expand Staying Home Leaving Violence, a program supporting women and children impacted by domestic violence, from its existing 33 sites to ensure it will be available across NSW. The program aims to reduce the risk of homelessness and maintain community connections for those impacted by domestic violence. The government will also continue to fund the Domestic Violence Pro-Active Support Service.
  • $46 million to expand the Stolen Generations Reparations Scheme, including the digitisation of records.
  • $20 million NSW government contribution for Closing the Gap initiatives in accordance with the National Agreement and in support of the equal participation of Aboriginal communities in priority reforms.
  • $41.7 million ($84.4 million over two years) to meet increased demand for payments to victims of crime.
  • $30 million over four years for social impact investments, with a focus on programs for disadvantaged women and Indigenous youth.
  • $33 million investment in corrective services for 170 frontline Community Corrections roles, including eight Aboriginal identified roles, plus providing people on parole with greater access to programs and increased supervision to ensure they do not become further entrenched in the criminal justice system.
  • $57 million over two years to expand the Together Home program that provides homeless services and support.
  • $28.5 million over four years to continue the successful Police Ambulance and Clinical Early Response (PACER) program that embeds mental health clinicians with first responders at the scene to provide specialist advice and appropriate care to people experiencing mental distress.
  • $10.1 million ($41.5 million over four years) in additional funding to support the delivery of critical services by the NSW Trustee and Guardian.
  • $38.5 million over four years for the NSW Data Analytics Centre to improve the provision of public services.
  • Continuation of the $1,500 Small Business Fees and Charges rebate.
  • $54.5 million to build and upgrade police stations at Bega, Goulburn, Jindabyne area, Bourke, Bathurst and Singleton, and a new police education and training facility in Dubbo and a $19 million upgrade for the Goulburn Police Academy.