Legal Aid New South Wales

About this Item
SpeakersGriffin The Hon Kayee; Clarke The Hon David; Hale Ms Sylvia; Westwood The Hon Helen; Nile Reverend the Hon Fred; Sharpe The Hon Penny; Hatzistergos The Hon John
BusinessBusiness of the House

Page: 18963

The Hon. KAYEE GRIFFIN [2.57 p.m.]: I seek leave to amend Private Members' Business item No. 230 outside the Order of Precedence for today of which I have given notice by omitting "29 October" and inserting instead "5 November".

Leave granted.

Accordingly, I move:
      That this House:

(a) congratulates Legal Aid New South Wales on its 30-year anniversary celebrations on Thursday 5 November 2009,

(b) recognises the essential work of Legal Aid New South Wales in delivering legal representation, advice and education to the residents of New South Wales,

(c) notes that over the past five years Legal Aid New South Wales increased the number of legal information services provided by 290 per cent, advice and minor assistance services by 36 per cent and community legal education sessions by 399 per cent,

(d) notes that in 2008-09 alone, over 7,000 young people attended legal education sessions, and

(e) congratulates Legal Aid New South Wales on the results of their most recent client satisfaction survey, which showed that 91 per cent of clients would recommend the services of Legal Aid New South Wales to another person.

Next week will mark the important thirtieth anniversary of Legal Aid New South Wales. This House should be on record congratulating Legal Aid New South Wales on its the enormous contribution it has made, and continues to make, to the people of New South Wales. The Legal Services Commission Act 1979 established the body that we now know as Legal Aid New South Wales, which brought together the Public Solicitors Office and the Law Society's legal aid scheme. The commission established under that Act held its first meeting on 6 August 1979, and commenced operations on 21 December 1979.

Legal Aid New South Wales has continued to build upon a mixed model of service delivery that depends on a strong in-house practice, as well as partnerships with private practitioners and other organisations with an interest in the provision of legal services to disadvantaged people. These partner organisations include the Aboriginal Legal Service, Community Legal Centres across New South Wales, the Law Society and the Bar Association, all of which will mark the anniversary. In 1979 Legal Aid had 143 staff; today it has more than 900. In 1979 its total expenditure was approximately $600,000; for 2008-09 it was greater than $215 million. Legal Aid New South Wales is now the largest legal aid agency in Australia with 22 offices in locations across metropolitan and regional New South Wales. It boasts the largest criminal and family law practices in Australia and a civil law program that is significantly larger than those in other legal aid commissions.

As I noted in my motion, over the past four years Legal Aid has achieved a 290 per cent increase in legal information services, a 36 per cent increase in legal advice and minor assistance services, and a 399 per cent increase in community legal education sessions. The services provided include specialist units at the Adult Drug Court and the Youth Drug and Alcohol Court; in-house committals and advocacy units to represent clients in complex matters; the Child Support Service; the Children's Legal Service and Youth Hotline; a Coronial Inquest Unit; specialist homeless outreach positions as part of the Homeless Person's Legal Service; a specialist care and protection practice; the Mental Health Advocacy Service; the Prisoners Legal Service; and the Women's Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Program.

In the area of criminal law Legal Aid New South Wales has supported the development and expansion of diversionary programs and crime prevention initiatives. In 1998 Legal Aid New South Wales established the Youth Hotline for young people under 18 years of age who are detained in custody, are in trouble with the police or have serious criminal problems. This service, which has been critical to the success of the Young Offenders Act, now provides advice to more than 9,800 young people every year. We should recognise Legal Aid's leadership in the use of family dispute resolution, as identified in the report completed by KPMG for the Commonwealth Attorney-General's Department. This report found that the family dispute resolution service of Legal Aid New South Wales was one of the most cost-effective models in Australia and had an extremely high settlement rate.

Legal Aid has contributed to the development of law in the role of children's representatives and since the mid 1990s has worked closely with the Law Council of Australia in the delivery of accredited independent children's lawyer training. We clearly state our support for the Women's Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Program, which is another example of an innovative response to the needs of vulnerable clients. When this program was established in 1996 it was the first of its kind in the world. The program assists women to use the justice system to gain protection from domestic violence. It initially operated in 47 courts. Today, following a $2.7 million increase in funding provided by the New South Wales Government, the program has expanded to cover 108 local courts across the State.

I also note that during the global financial crisis Legal Aid has launched a new range of initiatives, including mortgage stress information forums across the State, a mortgage stress handbook and DVD, and a duty service for the repossession list at the Supreme Court. This has been in partnership with the Consumer Credit Legal Centre. In 2008-09 private practitioners provided more than 67,000 duty hours, and more than 25,000 grants of aid were approved for legal practitioners to provide representation. That represents 56 per cent of total grants. As well as the important trial and appeal work undertaken by the Public Defender's Office, many of the State's most senior counsel take pride in maintaining a legal aid practice. This commitment by the bar is critical to the efficient operation of Legal Aid and the court system. The alumni of Legal Aid New South Wales includes current and former members of the judiciary, senior public officials and members of this House and the other place, including Minister Barbara Perry and Parliamentary Secretary for the Attorney General, Barry Collier.

As I have stated, Legal Aid has provided invaluable services to the people of this State over the past 30 years, and continues to do so. The former legal aid system had its origin in the Poor Person's (Legal Remedies) Act 1918, followed by the establishment of the Public Defender's Office in 1941 to provide representation in serious criminal cases. In 1943 the Public Solicitor's Office was established under the Legal Assistance Act 1943, employing solicitors to provide legal aid in criminal matters. The private profession also contributed to the development of legal assistance for disadvantaged people, including through the Law Society's legal aid scheme established under the Legal Practitioners (Legal Aid) Act 1971, which concentrated on civil matters.

I turn now to specific work being undertaken by Legal Aid. Legal Aid supported the development of the Care Circles pilot at Nowra Children's Court in partnership with the Attorney General's Department and the Department of Community Services. Care Circles allow Aboriginal community representatives to make recommendations to Children's Magistrates about Aboriginal children in care matters. Legal Aid New South Wales implemented almost all the recommendations of a review of civil law outreach services to Aboriginal communities. It produced two new publications for Aboriginal clients, Aboriginal women and Aboriginal grandparents; it has conducted regular law outreach services for Aboriginal communities at various locations, including Redfern, Blacktown, Blackett, Kempsey, Newcastle, Toronto, Lismore, Wollongong and Nowra; and it launched a pilot program at Mt Druitt to provide family law care and protection advice and assistance, including well-attended outreach services at Blackett and Emerton.

Legal Aid's work with older people deserves a special mention. Legal Aid provided 45 community legal education sessions on issues that particularly affect older people, reaching a total audience of 1,930 older people and community workers. In collaboration with the Law Society of New South Wales, the Benevolent Society and Central Coast Case Management Services, Legal Aid launched the Planning Ahead pilot project through which Legal Aid New South Wales lawyers provide free legal advice and assistance to older people who live independently in the community. Legal Aid developed an extensive body of resources, including a poster, seven plain language brochures on legal issues for older people, information for Aboriginal grandparents, and a multipack of audio brochures on legal issues for libraries and residential facilities.

As has been mentioned previously in the House, homeless people are a particularly vulnerable group who are in need of legal support. In the past year Legal Aid has increased the number of outreach clinics providing legal assistance to homeless persons throughout New South Wales, in collaboration with the Homeless Person's Legal Service, an initiative of the Public Interest Law Clearing House. These clinics are now held in Blackett, Coffs Harbour, Kempsey, Grafton, Gosford, Newcastle, Wollongong, Port Kembla, Nowra and Parramatta. It has launched a service in collaboration with Southern Youth and Family Services to help young homeless people deal with legal issues to break the cycle of homelessness. The final priority group I want to mention is people with mental illness. In the past year Legal Aid represented more than 300 forensic patients who were in mental health facilities or prisons, or released in the community in proceedings under the Mental Health (Forensic Provisions) Act 1990.

Civil law is a particularly important area of Legal Aid's work. I congratulate Legal Aid on the results of an independent client satisfaction survey of 351 civil law clients. The survey found that overall satisfaction with clerical staff was rated 8.8 out of 10, overall satisfaction with legal staff was rated 8.4 out of 10, and 91 per cent of civil law clients would recommend Legal Aid New South Wales to another person. Legal Aid also began implementing recommendations from a review of civil law policies to ensure it targets people who are most at risk of social exclusion. It has responded to financial hardship experienced by clients with mortgages by holding mortgage stress information forums across New South Wales at locations including Parramatta, Gosford, Rooty Hill, Newcastle, Dapto, Albury and Wagga Wagga. These forums have been held in partnership with agencies such as the New South Wales Consumer Credit Legal Centre, the Office of Fair Trading and LawAccess New South Wales.

Legal Aid published the "Mortgage Stress" handbook, which was launched by the Attorney General in January 2009. By June 2009 Legal Aid New South Wales had distributed 11,000 copies of this handbook. Legal Aid created a mortgage stress website to accompany the "Mortgage Stress" handbook and produced the "Mortgage Rescue" DVD, which included dramatisations of the two most common scenarios for people experiencing mortgage stress. It obtained support from the Public Purpose Fund to establish the Mortgage Stress Legal Support Program in partnership with the New South Wales Consumer Cedit Legal Centre. This program assists people experiencing mortgage stress to retain their homes or, where appropriate, leave their homes with minimal loss and disruption.

Many people come into contact with legal aid through the criminal law system. In addition to the traditional representation and duty schemes, Legal Aid New South Wales was involved in a number of innovative programs that deserve our congratulations. Legal Aid New South Wales participated in diversionary programs, including circle sentencing for Aboriginal offenders; forum sentencing, which brings together offenders and victims; the Magistrates Early Referral Into Treatment Program [MERIT]—the drug treatment and rehabilitation program; and the Rural Alcohol Diversion Program, which provides adults with alcohol abuse or dependence problems the opportunity of rehabilitation as part of the bail process.

Legal Aid New South Wales provided young people with an alternative to a custodial sentence through the Youth Drug and Alcohol Court and the Youth Justice Conferencing programs, and it implemented recommendations of a review of the Children's Legal Service, which included relocating staff to Parramatta Justice Precinct to service the large new multicourt complex; employing more staff to provide crime prevention workshops in schools around the State; recruiting highly experienced staff to assist young people charged with serious offences; and providing training to private lawyers who undertake work in children's law and answer calls to the Youth Hotline.

Legal Aid New South Wales also produced two new brochures in English, Arabic, Chinese and Vietnamese to explain areas in which the law has changed recently. These brochures are "Understanding bail—helping you understand and apply for bail" and "Police powers—your rights and responsibilities", which covers arrest, searches, public disorder, move-along directions, identification, questioning, seizing goods and making a complaint.

I am particularly proud to support community legal education and I note the work of Legal Aid New South Wales in relation to that. In 2008-09 Legal Aid New South Wales launched a statewide program of community legal education in prisons, in partnership with the Department of Corrective Services. This program included a series of six Back on Track DVDs and accompanying brochures on legal topics affecting prisoners, such as debt, fines, tenancy, and children's care and protection. Legal Aid New South Wales also developed new educational resources for unrepresented litigants in each practice area, including a resource kit for parents seeking to recover children in the family law jurisdiction; a website and handbook for people experiencing mortgage stress; and resources to assist people in understanding bail laws. In addition, Legal Aid New South Wales undertook extensive promotional and outreach activities in advance of the 31 May 2009 deadline for claims to the Aboriginal Trust Repayment Scheme.

Legal Aid New South Wales responded swiftly to emerging events, including natural disasters such as floods and storms, by attending recovery centres to give advice and information to flood-affected communities in Lismore, Coffs Harbour, Tamworth and Bourke, and it organised public forums and new resources for people experiencing mortgage stress as a result of the global economic downturn. Legal Aid New South Wales is to be commended for the work that it carries out in our community and for the broad range of areas that it covers. It is appropriate that we congratulate Legal Aid New South Wales on its thirtieth anniversary. I commend the motion to the House.

The Hon. DAVID CLARKE [3.12 p.m.]: The Opposition is pleased to join in supporting this motion to congratulate Legal Aid New South Wales on its thirtieth anniversary today and to recognise the essential work that it does in delivering legal representation, legal advice and legal education to so many people throughout New South Wales. Legal Aid New South Wales is an important body for the proper working of the justice system in New South Wales. It is important because of the legal representation that it gives to those in New South Wales who are disadvantaged or who, for other reasons, are unable to obtain legal representation. Justice must not only be done but should be seen to be done, and Legal Aid New South Wales helps to ensure that happens. The homepage of Legal Aid New South Wales states:

      We assist socially and economically disadvantaged people to understand and protect their rights. One of the functions of the legal system is to safeguard people's rights. The legal system can only perform this protective role if people have equitable access to it.
That is why Legal Aid New South Wales is so important, in fact, so pivotal to the rule of law in our State, to the administration of justice and to the principle of equal access for all to the justice system in New South Wales. Legal Aid New South Wales allows our legal system to be accessible to the most disadvantaged, to those who may be disabled and to those from non-English speaking backgrounds. Legal Aid New South Wales helps to ensure that justice and legal representation are available to all, regardless of financial or social status. Legal Aid New South Wales works with a whole range of community groups to achieve its aim of equal justice for all. It works with community legal centres, with Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander legal services and with legal practitioners in the private sector. In fact, during 2007-08 lawyers in the private sector provided more than 40 per cent of its case and duty services.

Today we honour and pay tribute to the personnel who make up Legal Aid New South Wales. In years gone by, when I was practising as a lawyer in the private sector, I had numerous dealings with the legal aid system of New South Wales, and I can give testimony to the fact that I found its personnel hardworking and dedicated. They handle and face many challenges as part of their professional duties and they do so with professionalism and understanding, and with a true motivation for community service. New South Wales can be proud of those who work within Legal Aid New South Wales as well as the legal practitioners in private practice who provide their services at remuneration levels far below what they would earn in the private sector for providing the same legal services.

The services provided by Legal Aid New South Wales are wide, varied and extensive. In 2007-08 it provided 641,884 client services, which is an 80.6 per cent increase over five years; it represented more than 65,000 clients in legal matters; and its community legal education seminars increased from the previous year by 23.7 per cent. In 2007-08 Legal Aid New South Wales provided services to 23,355 clients in the area of mental health, more than 50 per cent of its expenditure was spent in criminal law, and more than 31 per cent was spent in family law services, with 7.4 per cent of its case and in-house duty services going to Aboriginal people.

But if this Government thinks that it can bask in the achievements of the hardworking and dedicated staff of Legal Aid New South Wales, it has another think coming. No credit attaches to this Government; the achievements of Legal Aid New South Wales have been achieved despite this Government. The truth of the matter is that Legal Aid New South Wales is grossly underfunded and grossly understaffed by this State Labor Government. Legal Aid New South Wales is restrained from providing legal services to thousands of people throughout New South Wales because of this State Labor Government. The truth is that many parts of New South Wales, such as Port Macquarie, are crying out for legal aid centres, but their cries are in vain. Thousands of citizens are denied proper access to justice because Legal Aid New South Wales just does not have enough resources to do the job that needs to be done.

Legal Aid New South Wales achieves outstanding results for the people of New South Wales but it is not a magician: It cannot stretch the insufficient resources that the Government deigns to dish out to it any further than it does. The Government should hang its head in shame for the shabby way it treats Legal Aid New South Wales, which carries on despite being under-resourced and understaffed. The services provided by Legal Aid New South Wales are outstanding, as is its outreach and professionalism, but there are thousands of citizens throughout New South Wales who are denied the services, the outreach and the professionalism of Legal Aid New South Wales because of funding restrictions imposed by the Government. I conclude by sending the best wishes of the Opposition to Legal Aid New South Wales and once again congratulate it on 30 years of fine service to the people of New South Wales.

Ms SYLVIA HALE [3.19 p.m.]: I support the motion and, on behalf of my colleagues, express the Greens support for Legal Aid New South Wales and acknowledge the enormous service it has provided to the community over the past 30 years. Prior to being elected to this House I served for several years on a legal aid review committee. The purpose of the committee was to hear appeals from people who had been denied legal aid. Often that was the result of their failing to keep an appointment or to fulfil some other obligation that was imposed upon them. Frequently they were unable to keep appointments because they had moved, they were homeless or they were impossible to contact. In many cases they were illiterate.

There were five legal aid review committees, each specialising in a different area. The committees examined applications for legal aid and tried to reach a reasonable conclusion about the validity of the reasons for denying it. Almost invariably when it came to the question of missed appointments we were more than prepared to give the applicant a second chance. During that process it struck me that to qualify for legal aid an applicant had to be virtually destitute. The committee was given details of people's personal bank accounts and the nature of their debts. It was heartrending to see how few resources some of the applicants had when they came into contact with the law. I also became very conscious of how harshly the restrictions on the provision of legal aid impacted upon people.

We did not always deal with individuals; sometimes community groups legitimately wanted to pursue an issue, but they were also denied legal aid. If applicants were fortunate enough to have a house, they virtually had to sell it before they could receive any assistance. I understand that additional resources have been provided since then. However, there is no question that Legal Aid New South Wales does not receive sufficient resources to deal adequately with the number of legitimate claims upon it. Legal aid is fundamental in our society if we are to have any pretensions to running an accessible justice system.

While I applaud the establishment of Legal Aid New South Wales and its 30 years of operation, it is crucial if it is to continue to meet the needs of the people of this State that its resources be augmented. The same is true of the resources of the Ombudsman's Office. These services are essential features of a modern democracy and they should not be allowed to whither on the vine for lack of support. It is one thing in a democracy to say, "Aren't we good?" and to pay token deference to the provision of essential services; it is another thing to provide those services with adequate resources. I support this important motion and I commend the Hon. Kayee Griffin for moving it. We should recognise the significant contribution that Legal Aid New South Wales makes to our civil society.

The Hon. HELEN WESTWOOD [3.34 p.m.]: I am pleased to support the motion. Although I have been a life-long resident of western Sydney, I am very aware of the different issues confronting rural and regional New South Wales. That awareness is the result of my involvement in local government and the sister-city relationship between Bankstown City Council and Broken Hill. Because of that relationship, I have visited Broken Hill on a number of occasions. I will therefore focus my contribution on the work that Legal Aid New South Wales does in rural and regional areas of this State.

Legal Aid New South Wales has developed the regional solicitor program, which provides salary subsidies and other incentives to private firms in regional areas to employ additional lawyers who undertake an agreed amount of legal aid work. An interim evaluation of the program in July 2008 indicated that it had resulted in significant volumes of additional legally aided work being done in the selected areas. In 2008-09, Legal Aid rolled out the Cooperative Legal Service Delivery Program to Broken Hill and the South Coast region, bringing the total number of program partnerships to eight. The program involves partnerships of legal and community agencies working collaboratively on training, workshops, community legal education and outreach initiatives that respond to locally identified legal needs.

During 2008-09, program partners cooperated to introduce service delivery measures such as advice clinics, outreach services, workshops, forums and consultations that were specifically designed to suit the needs of their communities. In addition, they cooperated with other legal and non-legal agencies to improve the availability of outreach services throughout New South Wales. They also teamed up during Law Week 2009 with other service providers, including LawAccess New South Wales, Victims Services and the Tenants Advice and Advocacy Service, to form a travelling legal service that conducted talks for seniors and open days at courthouses and provided assistance with stolen wages claims.

Legal Aid New South Wales delivers funding management for community legal centres in New South Wales. Many of these centres are in rural and regional New South Wales and are particularly important sources of community legal advice. In 2008-09, Legal Aid New South Wales administered funding for 35 community legal centres that provide a range of free legal services to address the specific needs of disadvantaged people. Five of these centres also manage Children's Court assistance schemes at six locations. These schemes provide a roster of trained youth workers to assist young people and their families with information about court processes, informal counselling and referral to welfare services. All members would acknowledge the importance of that work, particularly for young people and their families as they proceed through the court system.

I have spent a long time involved in the community services sector and I am aware of the services that community legal centres provide and the difference that they make in local communities. I am old enough to remember the days before the centres were established. There were huge service gaps in those days; there was nowhere to turn for legal advice for people who could not afford to pay for it. I am sure that many people were done an injustice because they could not get basic legal advice.

The 33 women's domestic violence court advocacy services also fall within the administration of Legal Aid New South Wales. I am very familiar with those services. Last night I spoke in this place about Lyn Alcock, a worker with one of those services, who passed away recently from ovarian cancer. As a community worker I had direct experience with court assistance programs. They really made a difference for women seeking apprehended violence orders. Many were facing their first experience with the criminal justice system and their first visit to a courthouse. They found it very intimidating and frightening, and these services made a huge difference. They provide advocacy, information and referral to other services assisting women seeking legal protection from domestic violence. They also work in partnership with local court staff, the New South Wales Police Force and the legal profession.

I cannot stress strongly enough just what a difference these services make for women who have experienced domestic violence. During 2008-09 the women's domestic violence court advocacy program provided 44,233 services—that is a 4.85 per cent increase over the previous year—to 15,895 women. Those statistics demonstrate the need for this service. Also during 2008-09 the women's domestic violence court advocacy service provided an additional 10 locations—Narooma, Cobar, Nyngan, Narromine, Warren, Boggabilla, Mungindi, Narrandera, Picton and Gilgandra—making a total of 72 such services at local courts throughout New South Wales as at 30 June this year.
    The work of Legal Aid New South Wales with Aboriginal clients is also particularly important outside of Sydney. In the past year it entered into a new statement of cooperation with the Aboriginal Legal Service—the New South Wales-Australian Capital Territory service—to guide the joint delivery of legal services to Aboriginal people for the next three years, and promote coordination in training and law reform activities. It consulted with Wirringa Baiya Aboriginal Women's Legal Centre and Women's Legal Services New South Wales community legal centre on the development of new publications for Aboriginal clients, including Aboriginal women and Aboriginal grandparents. Again, that is a service I am quite familiar with. I know that the women's legal services centre, although Sydney-based, does an awful lot of work outside Sydney with disadvantaged communities.

    Legal Aid New South Wales held an Aboriginal services planning day on 29 May this year with partners including the New South Wales Department of Aboriginal Affairs, which provided an opportunity to establish new initiatives and plan a coordinated response to Aboriginal service delivery. It worked with the Aboriginal Legal Service and the Aboriginal Programs Unit of the New South Wales Attorney General's Department, who made invaluable contributions to the Legal Aid New South Wales Aboriginal Justice Committee.

    It also provided funding for the Aboriginal Legal Service to employ three care and protection lawyers in Wagga Wagga, Grafton and Armidale; a criminal lawyer based at the Aboriginal Legal Service at Griffith; and a lawyer to service the Australian Capital Territory and the New South Wales South Coast areas. There was also partial funding from Australian Capital Territory Legal Aid for that service. It advised and represented Aboriginal people in criminal courts when the Aboriginal Legal Service was unable to, including weekend bail courts, and it advised Aboriginal children in custody via the youth hotline. Legal Aid New South Wales does fantastic work in regional and rural New South Wales. I take this opportunity to mark its 30-year anniversary and thank it for the great work it has done. I commend the motion to the House.

    Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE [3.33 p.m.]: On behalf of the Christian Democratic Party I support the motion moved by the Hon. Kayee Griffin, which states:
        That this House:

    (a) congratulates Legal Aid New South Wales on its 30-year anniversary celebrations on Thursday 5 November 2009,

    (b) recognises the essential work of Legal Aid New South Wales in delivering legal representation, advice and education to the residents of New South Wales,

    (c) notes that over the past five years Legal Aid New South Wales increased the number of legal information services provided by 290 per cent, advice and minor assistance services by 36 per cent and community legal education sessions by 399 per cent,

    (d) notes that in 2008-09 alone, over 7,000 young people attended legal education sessions, and

    (e) congratulates Legal Aid New South Wales on the results of their most recent client satisfaction survey, which showed that 91 per cent of clients would recommend the services of Legal Aid New South Wales to another person.

    Legal Aid New South Wales has an outstanding record given the number of people it has assisted and its excellent education program. Legal aid ensures that justice is for everyone, rich or poor. Those who have financial resources can engage expensive barristers and even Queen's Counsel for very high fees, hoping to influence the court they are facing. Other individuals who do not have any resources, who are disadvantaged or who are in a lower economic category cannot afford solicitors or barristers, and without legal aid they would be severely disadvantaged. Legal Aid New South Wales creates a level playing field for everyone in this State by providing access to solicitors or barristers who are best able to present a case.

    Having observed some cases in New South Wales—and media reports may not always be correct—I have wondered whether Legal Aid was justified in providing funding for expensive Queen's Counsel. I wonder how costs in some cases are calculated, particularly cases in which an individual sues the Government or an environmental agency, or where prisoners sue Corrective Services. When analysed, such cases seem either frivolous or vexatious. I urge Legal Aid to continue to carefully evaluate whether legal aid should be supplied in those cases. There is a limit to the funds available, and Legal Aid must use those funds so that every dollar counts.

    I support particularly the excellent work of Legal Aid in supporting women experiencing domestic violence. Many of them feel forlorn, isolated and without support; receiving legal aid is a step in the right direction for them. Also, Aborigines facing criminal charges have benefited from the support that Legal Aid New South Wales has provided. I am pleased to support the motion and commend the work of Legal Aid New South Wales.

    The Hon. PENNY SHARPE (Parliamentary Secretary) [3.37 p.m.]: I do not intend to speak very long on the motion but I wish to record my support for it and congratulate Legal Aid New South Wales on its first 30 years. Without access to justice there is no justice. That means Wales without legal aid in New South so many people would be unable to access the legal services they need for a fair trial and to find justice. The role of Legal Aid New South Wales is very broad. I will focus my comments on its work with community legal centres and, in particular, its work in domestic violence through the domestic violence court advocacy service program.

    The official material I have been given about community legal centres says they provide accessible legal advice, casework and legal representation to disadvantaged clients. They promote community legal education activities and provide people with information about their legal rights and obligations. Community legal centres encourage participation by volunteers from all sections of the community in the work, administration and management of the centres. They facilitate community participation in the legal system and participate in legal reform. In New South Wales 35 community legal centres are funded and there are also three new pilot legal services. The figures tell a much better story than perhaps that fairly sanitised version of the work they do.

    In 2008-09 New South Wales community legal centres provided 49,230 information services and almost 47,000 legal advice services. They completed 5,248 cases, made 905 court representations, delivered 605 community legal education sessions and completed 251 law reform projects. Staff at community legal centres are far more than just lawyers; they are supporters, social workers and community workers in the broadest sense, seeking to help whoever comes through the door with whatever problem they present with. In particular, I mention two community legal centres with which I am very familiar. The first is the Redfern Legal Centre, which has been part of the Redfern community for many decades. It has supported, in particular, the Aboriginal community of Redfern in innovative ways and continues to do so. Last year I was very proud to nominate the Redfern Legal Centre for a human rights award, which it won, in recognition of its hard work. I particularly acknowledge Helen Campbell for her work at Redfern Legal Centre and say hello to all its volunteers.

    Dr John Kaye: Cheerio.

    The Hon. PENNY SHARPE: Cheerio to Margaret Jones who is in her 80s and who has been a volunteer at the centre for more than 20 years. Margaret is the epitome of volunteers who work in community legal centres. They are thoughtful and dedicated. There is no task they will not do to support paid workers. They undertake huge volumes of work. We should not underestimate the amount of training given to Sydney's legal fraternity by community legal centres, nor should we underestimate the amount of pro bono work done by the legal fraternity through those centres. I place on record my appreciation for their important contribution.

    I highlight also the work of the Inner City Legal Centre. I have been involved with that centre in only a peripheral way but I am very familiar with some of its, and its current work around same sex domestic violence, and tackling court and other legal issues for transgender and intersex people. Its work is, quite frankly, groundbreaking. The centre is providing one of the few places in New South Wales where people who are transgender or intersex can walk in, feel as though they can tell their story and have their needs met. It is incredibly important work.

    I acknowledge also the work of the Inner City Legal Centre on the same sex case that was taken to the International Human Rights Committee. This important case involved a man called Edward Young whose partner, a veteran, died. They had been partners for 30 years. Edward applied for a war widow's pension but his application was refused because both partners were men. With much work and pro bono support from the people at the Inner City Legal Centre Edward took the case all the way to the International Human Rights Committee, which found against the Howard Government's treatment of same sex couples. It was this groundbreaking work that led to the recent welcome reforms.

    I refer now to the work of community legal centres in relation to the Children's Court assistance scheme, which is a subprogram of the Community Legal Centre Program and operates at the six Children's Court locations. The scheme provides a roster of trained youth workers to work with young people and their families before and after court appearances, as well as on their day in court. The youth workers information about court processes and outcomes, informal counselling in conflict resolution and referral to welfare services such as drug and alcohol programs, counselling and accommodation. Going to court is very baffling for most people. Court processes are difficult to understand. Some people do not know whether they have been found guilty or not guilty at the end of the whole process. The work of the Children's Court assistance program is invaluable.

    Finally, I comment on the women's domestic violence court advocacy program, which is funded entirely by the New South Wales Government. Since July this year the court advocacy program services changed and funding was increased by $2.7 million a year. The total funding for the court advocacy program is now $7 million a year. This increased funding provides greater coverage for the Local Court system, with an increase in the number of court services from an initial 65 to 108. This has substantially increased the capacity to respond to the needs of Aboriginal women and people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, particularly those in regional and remote areas. It has created a significant number of additional specialist Aboriginal and Culturally and Linguistically Diverse worker positions.

    The program now funds a statewide network of 28 women's court services that service 72 court locations and will increase to 108 in the next year. These services provide specialised court advocacy services for women and children seeking legal protection through apprehended domestic violence orders. They offer support for improved safety, the increased likelihood of obtaining a final order or appropriate orders that are designed to fit individual needs, improved access to the court process, improved levels in quality of legal representation, and appropriate referrals to legal and social welfare services.

    During 2008-09 they provided services on 44,233 occasions to almost 16,000 women, an increase of about 5 per cent. This means that 16,000 women sought a domestic violence order because someone close to them was committing violence against them. They would have been alone in this process if it were not for the support of workers in the court advocacy program, working closely with local police officers and other support services. We agree that 16,000 women is 16,000 too many, but we should all be very grateful for this service.

    I congratulate Legal Aid New South Wales on its thirtieth anniversary. I acknowledge legal aid workers in the public sector and in the private sector, and particularly, as my comments have demonstrated, those who work in community legal services, in all their capacities, whether they are volunteers or are paid. Their work is invaluable and, quite frankly, our State would be far less without them.

    The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS (Attorney General, Minister for Industrial Relations, Vice President of the Executive Council) [3.47 p.m.]: I join other members in speaking to this important occasion and I congratulate the Hon. Kayee Griffin on her initiative in moving the motion, which I understand has support from all members of the House. This is an important and timely debate, coinciding with the thirtieth anniversary of Legal Aid New South Wales and it is important to recognise how far it has come over that period of time. It has expanded its responsibilities to cover not only work in the State sphere but also work in the Federal sphere, having incorporated within its work matters that previously were carried out by the Australian Legal Aid Office, which used to deal with matters of Federal law.

    First, I pay tribute to everyone who has worked in Legal Aid New South Wales over that period. In particular, I thank the current Legal Aid board and the Chief Executive, Alan Kirkwood, whom I hold in very high regard, for the outstanding leadership they have shown in recent and particularly challenging times, where funding has been cut by the Federal Government. I am grateful for the fact that Robert McClelland has, at least on a temporary basis, made further provision for Legal Aid New South Wales, to enable it to continue its valuable work. I am hopeful that the Commonwealth legal aid funding agreement, to be concluded, will provide a more stable footing for funding, particularly funding from the Commonwealth Government.

    On a number of occasions I have had great pleasure in being part of Legal Aid's education work. I regularly receive invitations to showcase and promote their work. All of it has been of an extraordinarily high quality. They also pay tribute to those many lawyers who have worked in legal aid. It says something, I believe, about the calibre of the personnel in legal aid that in recent times a large number of our magisterial appointments have come from legal aid lawyers. People who have worked in legal aid over an extensive period have applied to become magistrates, have gone through the selection process, and have been recommended as being highly suitable. Those persons have not only taken those positions but have fulfilled their functions as magistrates in an exemplary way following the training they have received.

    I understand that next Thursday night Legal Aid New South Wales will host a small function to celebrate this important milestone in legal aid's history. I will certainly be present, and I will have more to say on the matter then. At this point, however, I simply want to acknowledge and place on record my appreciation and thanks to all those who have been part of the legal aid story over the last 30 years.

    The Hon. KAYEE GRIFFIN [3.50 p.m.], in reply: I thank all honourable members for their contributions to this debate. During the debate comments were made about legal aid funding over several years. The New South Wales Government has increased its total legal aid funding from $26.5 million in the 1996-97 financial year to $98.4 million in the 2009-10 financial year, which represents a massive increase of 271 per cent over the last 13 years. In stark contrast, over the 10 years prior to 2007-08 the former Commonwealth Government chose to reduce funding for Legal Aid New South Wales by $77.9 million in real terms. When the Coalition was last in government in New South Wales, John Fahey took the opportunity to slash $12 million from the civil law division of Legal Aid. The New South Wales Government is to be commended for ensuring that it has continued to increase Legal Aid funding, given that there have been issues with Federal Government funding to support the legal aid service in New South Wales.

    In May 2009 the Rudd Government announced an additional $4.4 million in one-off funding for Legal Aid New South Wales, to assist with demand for services in 2008-09. This follows an additional $6 million in funding provided in 2007-08. The announcement was definitely a step in the right direction on behalf of disadvantaged members of the New South Wales community. In June 2008 the Commonwealth Attorney-General also approved annual funding of $522,000 over four years for the following regional initiatives: $232,000 to expand Legal Aid's Regional Solicitor Program, $50,000 for training and support for regional solicitors, $180,000 for various legal service delivery projects, and a further $60,000 for outreach clinics.

    Once again I thank honourable members for their contributions to this debate. It is recognition in this House of the work that Legal Aid New South Wales does, and continues to do. Legal Aid New South Wales continues to expand its services to many people in the State who need legal aid services. Legal Aid New South Wales and the legal profession are to be commended for the work that is done through Legal Aid New South Wales.

    Question—That the motion be agreed to—put and resolved in the affirmative.

    Motion agreed to.