House of Representatives Speech- Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2013-2014

I thank the member for Morton for his question because, like the member for La Trobe and the member for Greenway, the member for Morton has a past in the legal profession as well as in the teaching profession. I know of his current closeness to a number of community legal centres that serve the people of his electorate. He understands, as does the government, the important role played by community legal centres. That is why government funds 138 community legal centres across the country. That is why in this budget you will see an increase for community legal centres across the country and why in the review of the national partnership that is now taking place close attention is going to be made to the outcomes of that review with a view to continuing the very effective funding that goes to community legal centres to enable them to provide the services they provide to people across Australia.

I thank the member for Morton for his question because, like the member for La Trobe and the member for Greenway, the member for Morton has a past in the legal profession as well as in the teaching profession. I know of his current closeness to a number of community legal centres that serve the people of his electorate. He understands, as does the government, the important role played by community legal centres. That is why government funds 138 community legal centres across the country. That is why in this budget you will see an increase for community legal centres across the country and why in the review of the national partnership that is now taking place close attention is going to be made to the outcomes of that review with a view to continuing the very effective funding that goes to community legal centres to enable them to provide the services they provide to people across Australia.

I say 'effective funding' because what you see at community legal centres is a similar model employed in every single one of them. This model is a core group of paid staff with some paid solicitors and some paid support staff, administrative or financial staff. They are surrounded by volunteers in their legions who come in to assist at those community legal centres. They can be both lawyers and non-lawyers. In addition, there are often links to major firms that provide, as part of the pro bono contribution that they make to the community, the time of their solicitors, who will go and work for some part of each week as part of that firm's pro bono contribution, which is only to be encouraged; it is a growing contribution. So, when I say that it is effective funding, the Commonwealth's dollars here in fact enable the provision of much more extensive and valuable services provided by volunteers and by solicitors from firms large and small.

I have seen this. I have made it my task since I was appointed Attorney-General on 4 February to visit as many community legal centres as I can. I have visited the Gosnells Community Legal Centre in Perth, the Sussex Street Community Legal Service at East Victoria Park in Perth, the Townsville Community Legal Service, the Redfern community legal service, the Fitzroy Legal Service and the Women's Legal Service, which I visited with the member for Moreton in Brisbane. I am going to stop listing, because I have visited others, but those are the ones that spring immediately to mind. In all of those community legal services, what you see is that model of volunteer solicitors working with paid solicitors and paid administrative staff, as well as volunteer administrators and tremendous input from established firms who have understood that, far from community legal services competing with them or taking work away from those established firms, they work together. It is a very fine use of pro bono services for them to send their solicitors down to assist.

It is a real concern to our government that that approach of funding to community legal services—providing as they do services to the underprivileged and people in need right across our communities and right across Australia—is not one which is being taken by conservative state governments. It is with great regret that I have to inform the parliament that, for example, the two Environment Defenders Offices in Queensland have had their state government funding withdrawn, and that the Redfern Legal Centre has advised me that, since the change of government in New South Wales, it has been unsuccessful in a range of tenders for work that it has been doing for several years, including a $175,000 grant that it had been receiving from the New South Wales Department of Fair Trading for financial counselling and credit and debt services. Sadly, it is the case that the New South Wales Department of Family and Community Services will cease to provide funding to the Redfern Legal Centre and the New South Wales Welfare Rights Centre after 30 June. It is a precursor to what we could expect from a Liberal government. If there is to be a Liberal government in our country, it will certainly start to do what it did before, which is to cut funding to community legal centres.