ACT News

Study outlines options for overcrowded legal groups

An ACT Government study has agreed the overcrowded, decades-old former hostel housing Canberra's community legal centres isn't good enough.

The future of the groups remains unclear, however, with yesterday's feasibility study into a community legal centre hub putting several options on the table.

The study found moving the groups into another government-owned or leased building would be the most cost-effective approach, estimated at about $2 million.

But there's nothing big enough currently available in Civic, and the report said looking to the suburbs might be more effective and cheaper.

In contrast, moving them into the refurbished Supreme Court building - currently in the design stage - could add as much as $12.8 million to the project's price tag.

The ACT Greens, in their budget wish-list last year, asked the Government to spend $2 million on an inner-city hub.


Greens legal affairs spokesman Shane Rattenbury said yesterday, ''I think the report's pretty positive and it shows that the establishment of a community legal centre hub is a realistic option that is within reach.''

For more than a year, services cohabiting Havelock House have pleaded for better digs, arguing the 60-year-old structure isn't suited to their needs.

The Tenants Union, Women's Legal Centre and the Welfare Rights and Legal Centre have said there's no space to hold meetings, educational activities or forums.

The feasible study noted the occupants were struggling with old plumbing, poor heating and air-conditioning and no disability toilets.

And the groups, which employ 27 staff and several volunteers between them, have complained of quarters so cramped they've been forced to turn away lawyers offering pro bono help.

The study's authors agreed the status quo was inadequate given the size of the groups, and expanding the centres through the facility would be impossible to reconcile with its role as a community housing service.

They currently occupy about 335 square metres - about a third of the floor space the report said was required.

The Tenants Union's executive officer Deb Pippen said yesterday while the groups had yet to fully consider the report, it was good to see their concerns recognised.

''It clearly identifies the problems our services have been having and it's reassuring to see that there are these options being considered,'' Ms Pippen said.

The feasibility study, tabled in the Legislative Assembly yesterday, stressed all costings were indicative and advocated no preferred option. But it said the staged withdrawal of the services out of Havelock House and into other government accommodation would be a cost-effective short-term solution.

A spokesman for Attorney-General Simon Corbell said the government would give a community legal centre hub consideration in the context of the budget.