Welcomed to country by Wilyakali/Barkandju woman, Taunoa Bugmy, NSW Attorney General, Michael Daley, joined the local Legal Aid team for the official opening of the city’s new Legal Aid office at 32 Sulphide St today – Thursday.
The official opening of the Silver City’s new Legal Aid office received a high level of support and enthusiasm from partnering organisations and the local community as it aims to meet the increasing level of free legal assistance sought by residents.
Legal Aid NSW has been providing services to the far-west region on a fly-in, fly-out basis since 2016, and has operated from a small office co-located with Lifeline since 2017. But now clients can seek legal help from a dedicated team of local experts in a permanent ‘shopfront’ office.
With almost 61% of Legal Aid clients living in the regions across the state, intensifying cost-of-living pressures combined with physical isolation and social disadvantage, the need for free legal services has arguably never been greater.
In the central business district and a short walk from the courthouse and a number of private law firms, NSW Legal Aid encourages people to visit or contact the office with their legal concerns, particularly if struggling with housing or tenancy issues, debt issues or bill disputes, fines, disaster recovery, family breakdown, or criminal matters.
The new office will also provide weekly criminal, family, and civil advice clinics. Early access to legal assistance is crucial to ensuring simple legal issues don’t escalate.
Just a few months in the role, Attorney General Daley said what a great pleasure it was to attend the official opening of the new Legal Aid Office in Broken Hill.
“People in the regions deserve equal access to legal support and this [opening] is part of it. The NSW government wants to see the Broken Hill community and far-west region grow and thrive, and the new Broken Hill Legal Aid office aims to deliver far-reaching benefits to the community.
“Not only will this new office provide nine local jobs, it will also provide access to confidential and consistent legal services to the local community so they no longer have to wait or travel to seek legal assistance,” said Mr Daley.
When asked how Broken Hill Legal Aid services compared to other regional hubs, Mr Daley confessed that being new to the role meant he was still learning about Legal Aid services around the state, with his next stop being Dubbo.
NSW Legal Aid Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Monique Hitter, said Legal Aid was committed to improving access to legal help in the regions and remote areas.
“We know demand for legal help in the regions has been growing and access to justice is critical to improve outcomes for those experiencing disadvantage.
“This new office will ensure remote communities and surrounds have the same level of access to high quality legal services as people in metropolitan areas,” said Ms Hitter.
Broken Hill Solicitor in Charge, Steven Wright, said the rising cost of living, debt problems and hardship because of drought are common concerns among Legal Aid clients.
“When debt is left unpaid it can lead to other issues like housing problems,” said Mr Wright. “Providing early access to legal help means we can prevent small problems becoming bigger ones.”
CEO Hitter added, “Steven Wright and his team have done a wonderful job in really embedding the service into the community.
“Steven is also a great example of how you can start work at Legal Aid as a junior lawyer and then move up through the ranks. He’s grown as a criminal lawyer and now as a people leader doing an amazing job leading his office,” said Ms Hitter.
The growing number of lawyers based in the far west has led to several partnerships with local service providers in Wentworth, Broken Hill, and Wilcannia over the years, including with the Far West Local Health District, Aboriginal Legal Service and Lifeline.
Because the far-west region is home to one of NSW’s biggest Aboriginal populations, the Legal Aid team will partner with specialist teams such as the Civil Law Service for Aboriginal Communities and the Family Law Service for Aboriginal Communities to deliver targeted and culturally safe legal aid.
The expansion of Legal Aid NSW in Broken Hill has already had positive outcomes, with reduced delays in both the District Court and Local Court.
Legal Aid Broken Hill is at Level 2, 32 Sulphide St, Broken Hill. Call 8004 9600 for information about services.