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Annual Report 2021 - 2022

Acting CEO’s report

Monique Hitter

In November 2021, I took on the role of Acting Chief Executive Officer. Our former CEO, Brendan Thomas, departed to take on a newly created role of Deputy Secretary of Transforming Aboriginal Outcomes within the Department of Communities and Justice. This was a huge loss for our organisation, but for a very important reason, and Legal Aid NSW is strongly committed to supporting the program of work Brendan is now leading in every way we can.

I take this opportunity to express our thanks to Brendan for the immense contribution he made to Legal Aid NSW. Brendan led us through ambitious and critical reforms, which put our organisation on a very strong footing for the future. To just name a few, Brendan secured ongoing funding to meet the very significant shortfall created by the impending loss of funding from the Public Purpose Fund, whilst also providing far greater funding security from the Public Purpose Fund for future years.

Brendan’s strong commitment to introducing flexible work for our staff provided the platform from which we were able to adapt to the constraints imposed by the pandemic, and ensured we continued to meet our service delivery obligations whilst always putting the safety of our staff first and foremost. Brendan led significant reforms to the experience of our clients in accessing our services and reformed our policies and systems to ensure we met the needs of those experiencing the most disadvantage regardless of where they live. This included welcoming LawAccess NSW into our organisation in 2020, which allowed us to fully integrate the call centre into our operations and establish a Statewide Advice Team.

We continue to be very well supported by a strong and cohesive Board and Executive team, and have continued to build on our achievements and continue our journey to realise our vision for Legal Aid NSW.

Our achievements are the result of the dedicated efforts of our staff, who are deeply committed to the work of Legal Aid NSW, even in the face of unprecedented challenges.

During the various and unpredictable periods of lockdowns over the past year, our staff continued to provide much needed services to our clients in creative and innovative ways, providing remote representation in courts and tribunals. Our administrative staff continued to find ways to support our solicitors and there was a great sense of collegiality across all our offices to help wherever it was needed. Our corporate services staff also provided terrific support without which the rest of the organisation could not have continued to provide services so effectively.

Then in late February 2022, we responded to the catastrophic flooding events across New South Wales, with the most significant impact felt in northern NSW and north-western Sydney. Continued heavy rainfall exacerbated the situation over the following months and by 30 June 2022, our Disaster Response Legal Service had delivered 2,737 legal services in response, of which 2,276 were provided at Disaster Recovery Centres and 2,174 to people on the north coast. We are continuing to provide on-the-ground services at the remaining Recovery Centres and Rapid Assistance Points as well as attending ‘Grants Blitz’ days to assist people seeking grants from Service NSW.

I acknowledge the leadership team and all of our staff from the Lismore office, who continued to provide services to clients despite the enormous personal impact that they faced during and following the floods. In late April, services resumed from our office because of the extraordinary dedication and hard work of the Lismore team supported by our corporate services staff.

In May this year, we introduced an Aboriginal Cultural Safety Framework and established a Closing the Gap Project Board, chaired by senior Aboriginal staff to monitor and build on our strategies to meet the targets under Closing the Gap.

Legal Aid NSW is an organisation that is defined by its pursuit of social justice. As we head into the final year of our ambitious five-year strategic plan, we should be proud of all that we have achieved despite the disruption of the pandemic. Like the last four years, we have an ambitious program of work, whilst also continuing to provide legal services that is of the highest quality expertly assisted by our administrative, allied, and corporate services. We are also an organisation that remains and will always be, committed to being one that is defined by its fairness, diversity, and inclusivity.

I look forward to the coming year and delivering on all the very important work we have set ourselves to do to achieve for our staff and our clients.

Monique Hitter
CEO, Legal Aid NSW