Mr HUSIC (Chifley) (12:16): I rise to speak about the Mount Druitt and Area Community Legal Centre, which has operated successfully in our area out of a building in the shopping district of Rooty Hill since 1997. It handles more than 1,100 cases a year, two-thirds with new clients. The centre itself services 44 of the Blacktown LGA’s 48 suburbs—it is astounding the number of suburbs it helps out—as well as 13 suburbs of the Penrith LGA. That is a catchment of close to 400,000 people. Last year alone it gave over-the-phone advice on 1,300 matters and saw 478 clients face to face. It represented those clients in Civil and Administrative Tribunal, local court, Superannuation Complaints Tribunal and Fair Work Commission matters, so it is doing a wide range of things.
In its early years the centre became so successful on a two to three day roster—the equivalent of 1½ solicitors—it was totally overwhelmed with cases. The legal assistance sector, I hate to admit and I am saddened to hear, is being subjected to $43 million in cuts over the forward estimates—an astounding and terrible figure. There is no funding certainty for community legal centres beyond that.
This centre does not operate on government funding alone. It has had support from the corporate sector. In 2001 Blake Dawson Waldron, now known as Ashurst, felt it would be in the community’s best interest that the Mount Druitt and Area Community Legal Centre have its doors open more days. For almost 10 years Ashurst offered their services free of charge to clients—a tremendous example of corporate Australia pitching in in an area of need. They based themselves there full time and were able to operate in the service there. Eventually they had to withdraw their full-time presence but—Member for Shortland, you may be interested in knowing—they still continue to provide $25,000 a year, which is astounding in itself.
Historically, the centre has been funded by the federal government with recurrent funding of $220,000. In an area of high need, this centre works miracles, having the fifth lowest level of funding compared to others. By comparison, the Hunter Community Legal Centre gets $581,000 and our neighbouring Macquarie Legal Centre nearly $500,000. I am proud to say that the former Labor government signed a deed guaranteeing $50,000 per year for three years. But after just one year it was cancelled by the coalition. That is a $100,000 loss.
Ms Hall: Absolutely shameful!
Mr Husic: It absolutely is a shame, Member for Shortland, because it has been a massive hit. It would have provided one solicitor working three days a week, and that funding should and must be restored.
To make matters worse, the recurrent funding to the community legal centres around the nation, as I said, is subject to savage cuts. The value of this service, I would say, cannot be measured in dollars alone because it is helping maintain social cohesion when families are in trouble and they cannot afford to pay for legal advice or representation. If you consider combined state and federal funding for the legal centres, there are a lot of others that get a lot more than this centre, yet this centre is potentially being squeezed out from an area of high need—after 18 years of high-quality service. It is certainly punching above its weight. We need this federal government to support it as a matter of equity, to ensure that people that are on low incomes are not denied access to legal representation.
I want to turn to another matter. Be it TAFE or private providers, we need people supporting vocational education in this country. I am happy either way, whether it is TAFE or private providers that are doing it. I, like many others, am keen to see more young people trained up for the work force. Given this, you can imagine my concern when I witnessed disturbing allegations this week on The 7.30 Report levelled at Evocca College’s Mount Druitt campus. A few years ago, I was pleased to be involved in the launch of Evocca, and I do believe in the work that they do. They are providing an important service.
Evocca is one of the nation’s biggest trainers and it is alleged to have undertaken some fairly unscrupulous practices when it comes to signing up students who, ultimately, may not graduate. Featured in this story this week was the Mount Druitt campus, which was alleged to have lured students into training courses by standing in shopping centres and handing over laptop computers and iPads. Some people attempted to sell those iPads at local pawn-broking shops. I am very concerned about these allegations. I think they undermine faith and confidence in the private training provider system, which I think is an important platform. I call on Evocca to thoroughly investigate these claims, attend to the concerns raised and make sure that students in our area get the quality education they deserve.