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27 Jan 2015


Free community-based legal help reaches new arrivals

Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells with SSI CEO Violet Roumeliotis, Chair Kamalle Dabboussy and representatives from migrant resource centres and Legal Aid NSW.

The Law and Justice Foundation of NSW report, Reaching in by joining-up, launched today in Sydney by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Social Services, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, found the partnership had been effective because it was targeted to the behaviours and needs of particular client groups and successfully negotiated barriers to accessing justice.

Under the partnership between Legal Aid NSW and SSI lawyers are providing free help with immigration matters, family law and everyday consumer and civil law problems at 10 Migrant Resource Centres.

SSI, the representative body for Migrant Resource Centres and Multicultural Services in NSW, is the largest not-for-profit humanitarian settlement organisation in Australia.

“By embedding legal services in places migrants already attend for support on other issues, we are able to reach many new clients who we have not been able to reach with existing services,” said Bill Grant, Chief Executive of Legal Aid NSW.

“Our help ranged from providing written information in community languages, writing letters or helping people to fill in forms to giving legal advice on such issues as domestic violence or Centrelink payments.”

“These services have made a huge difference to our clients, many of whom do not understand the Australian legal system, or are afraid or ashamed to seek advice on issues such as debt or divorce,” said Violet Roumeliotis, CEO of SSI.

“Offering legal services in our member Migrant Resource Centres, makes legal help more accessible. Legal education talks also build the awareness and trust needed among MRC workers and clients to support effective outreach, and makes it easier for workers to better identify legal problems and effectively refer clients to Legal Aid.”

The evaluation report, launched today, was funded by the Commonwealth under the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services.

For a copy of the report visit:

Media Contacts: Sue Scott (Legal Aid NSW) 0448 674 392
Rekha Sanghi (SSI Communications Officer) 0422 304 578


  • 2182 legal advice and minor assistance services were provided at 10 locations (see below) in a 12 month period
  • 88% of clients were born in non-English speaking countries
  • top five countries of origin of these clients were Iraq, Vietnam, Lebanon, Iran and China
  • 51% of services provided dealt with immigration law, 21% family law and 28% other civil law including consumer, injury and employment law
  • 21% of services were provided to people who had been in Australia for two years or less

Migrant Resource Centres legal services outreach clinics

  • Auburn Diversity Services Inc.
  • Fairfield Migrant Resource Centre (Cabramatta)
  • Fairfield Migrant Resource Centre (Fairfield)
  • Illawarra Multicultural Services
  • Liverpool Migrant Resource Centre
  • Metro Assist (Campsie)
  • Metro Assist (Marrickville)
  • Northern Settlement Services (Bateau Bay)
  • Sydney Multicultural Community Services (Daceyville)
  • SydWest Multicultural Services Inc. (Blacktown)

Case Study 1:

A young woman and mother from a South East Asian background was experiencing extreme domestic violence.

She had been in Australia for only two years and was not familiar with her rights or what support services would be available for her.

Her partner would never have allowed her to visit a lawyer. But she regularly visited the local Migrant Resource Centre where she got other support services; her partner took her there and waited in the car with their young child while she received advice.

Because of the partnership between Legal Aid NSW and SSI, she was able to seek legal advice about her domestic violence situation, and was told about her options and about other support services.

This allowed her to get the legal services she needed in the right environment.

Case Study 2:

A client had come to Australia on a partner visa. After she divorced, she applied to Housing NSW for rent assistance, but was told she was ineligible because she was on a temporary visa.

When she came to an MRC, she was referred to a Legal Aid lawyer who had a closer look at her visa and found she was already a permanent resident. The lawyer found out that permanent residents were eligible for rent assistance under the policies of Housing NSW and gave the client the correct form so she could apply again for rent assistance.

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