Having helped thousands of people on the margins access free legal advice for more than 15 years, Western Sydney solicitor Susai Benjamin has been recognised on the 2023 Kings’ Birthday Honours List.
Susai, a parishioner of St Anthony of Padua Parish, Toongabbie, and a Councillor at Blacktown City Council was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in June for his service to the law and the local community.
Susai is the one of the founders of the Toongabbie Legal Centre (TLC) and serves as its CEO. Formally opened to the community on 13 October 2007, it meets the needs of the local community and beyond who are unable to obtain free legal assistance or who may not meet the criteria for NSW Legal Aid.
The Toongabbie Legal Centre is run out of the Parish Hall at St Anthony’s on Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings by a team of dedicated volunteers ranging from legal practitioners, law students, social workers, financial advisers to retired solicitors and judges. The Legal Centre’s focus is four local government areas – The Hills Shire, Parramatta, Cumberland and Blacktown.
TLC’s outreach legal service functioned in Blacktown out of the office of Catholic Care Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains from December 2011 until August 2017. The Legal Centre plans to reopen the outreach legal service soon.
“I was pleased that someone nominated me to receive this award,” Susai explained to Catholic Outlook.
“There are thousands of nominations for these awards, and it is satisfying that some recognition has been made for our team of volunteers at the centre, as much as to myself.
“We do what we can with what we’ve got and we punch above our weight.”
Although the Legal Centre operates independently of the parish, Susai stressed the importance of the Catholic Church outreaching to the community in this way.
“We were encouraged to start because of then-Parish Priest Fr Bill Moore, who was a man of justice and social consciousness who allowed us to operate from the church hall.
“I have been influenced by the Church over a period of time about the social justice aspect of human life. My father had a strong sense of justice as a doctor, and he taught me a lot about helping people who were in trouble and who couldn’t afford to pay.
“Alongside the religious aspects of our faith tradition, one of the strengths of the Catholic Church is standing up for those who are suffering, and that is an important concept that nobody should forget and something to be celebrated and advanced.
“I like helping people who are in trouble, who cannot access legal aid. The Legal Centre provides a place where people with real challenges and problems can share their experiences and can get support they need.”
Having been recongised in such a significant way, Susai hopes that his award will give him energy to carry on the mission of the Toongabbie Legal Centre.
“I would like to thank Anne Benjamin, our founding president, subsequent presidents, Christopher Jurd and Rick Mitry for their huge support of the Toongabbie Legal Centre and has served on its committees for many years and have been a great source of support and strength in achieving what I have been doing,” he said.
“I thank the volunteers who have been helping and supporting the service and we thank the judicial officers, judges and magistrates at various levels that have supported us.
“We will carry on with what we have been doing and we will continue with our core mission, which is helping those who need help the most.”
Volunteers with legal background and knowledge are welcome to apply to assist with the professional operation of the Legal Centre, but Susai also welcomes help from regular parishioners in helping to fundraise for the service.
On 26 November 2022, the Toongabbie Legal Centre launched its crowdfunding appeal for the construction of its proposed Justice Margaret Beazley Centre, named after its patron, which will expand its legal services to the vulnerable, marginalised and disadvantaged in the community. If you wish to donate, visit www.tlc.asn.au/donate