Last night at Town Hall we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Redfern Legal Centre. Redfern Legal does incredible work in our area. Just last week their lawyers were in court applying for an injunction to stop the eviction of one of our elderly social housing tenants – a woman who'd lived in that house as long as the RLC has been around!
Read my speech from last night below.
Redfern Legal Centre certainly has cause to celebrate – not just 40 years, but 40 years of unremitting service to the disadvantaged and under-represented in our community.
I wonder if that motley crew of law students, academics, lawyers, social workers and activists who set up the state’s first community legal centre had any idea of how it would grow and the changes it would bring.
Offered space in the Redfern Town Hall by the then-South Sydney Council, the service opened in March 1977 with just one paid staff member, social worker Clare Petré.
Volunteer lawyers from NSW University and from private practice would assist clients two afternoons and five evenings a week.
From these relatively low-key beginnings, the centre spread its activities and its influence. The Nagle report into the prison system in 1978 led to the RLC advocating for prison reform and taking cases on behalf of prisoners.
Virginia Bell, now of the High Court, was an early volunteer, and with John Terry defended the 53 people arrested during that first Mardi Gras protest in 1978.
Another now-respectable citizen, Meredith Burgmann, sought help from the RLC when she took action following demonstrations against the Rhodesian Government’s refusal of legal rights for black citizens.
The centre was also active in areas of poverty – credit and debt, especially – and of housing and domestic violence issues.
Given its Redfern location, it’s unsurprising that the centre worked on many cases involving Aboriginal people, though not all of them involved Redfern residents. The case of David Gundy, shot dead during a police raid on his Marrickville home in 1989, was one important matter taken up by the RLC.
The City has helped fund the Centre’s work for the many long-term residents of Millers Point, being forced out of their homes in a State Government cash grab.
Most recently, they successfully sought a Supreme Court injunction to allow Sally Parslow, 74 years old and living in Millers Point for 40 years, to have her claim for equitable life tenancy heard in the courts.
Without the skilled and supremely dedicated staff at the Centre, she would have been yet another victim of the government’s greedy and inhumane grab.
The centre’s work, not only in the high-profile cases like this, but in the myriad everyday matters where the powerless and voiceless collide with a system that can seem loaded against them is something we all should value.
The City is proud to support the centre as we strive to ensure that our City is a place where everyone matters, and everyone can feel their rights will be upheld and their voices heard.
So our thanks and our congratulations to all who have made – and continue to make – Redfern Legal Centre such a force in our City. I urge everyone here this evening to support tonight’s auctions and help the centre wonderful work.