PMB - Legal Aid

Private Members' Business - Speech on Legal Aid.

 It is my pleasure to join colleagues this morning to speak about the community legal centres. I want to thank the member for Dunkley for bringing forward this motion today because community legal centres across Australia do pivotal work in our communities. In the motion, I want to draw attention to the view and the quote from the Royal Commission into the Robodebt Scheme:

… When it next conducts a review of the National Legal Assistance Partnership, the Commonwealth should have regard, in considering funding for legal aid commissions and community legal centres, to the importance of the public interest role played by those services as exemplified in their work during the Scheme…

I want to echo the sentiments of the royal commission because the critical point and the hard places that the Royal Commission into the Robodebt Scheme shone a light on were often brought to our attention in our electorates by those community legal centres. That was certainly one of the groups that I was talking to very early in the piece when first becoming aware that we had the issue of people being incorrectly issued with a debt notice.

WEstjustice is the community legal centre, and it was first founded as the Footscray Legal Centre many decades ago. WEstjustice operates across the western suburbs of Melbourne and has a home in the electorate of Lalor, in its Werribee office. It has done absolutely incredible work in my 10 years in the parliament, advising the now government, when we were in opposition, around name-change issues for refugees, particularly, in my community for those from Myanmar, and the complications of their immigration documents when a name was used but didn't translate into our Anglo-Saxon world. That often meant many years of delays in citizenship processes, which were easily overcome once a few lawyers put their head in there, sorted it out and gave us advice, which I believe was passed to the government, and we managed to get those things fixed fairly quickly. That's one of their roles and the role that I find most valuable.

Obviously we've just heard from the member for Moreton, who talked at length about the cases that community legal centres may do individually to support people. But, for me, the power of their work is in aggregating that information and bringing it to us as MPs and representatives in this place to alert us to trends or things that are obvious when you're on the grand. You aggregate the data of the individual cases and say: 'We have a problem with the name changes for refugees in this country.' We had a problem, highlighted by West Justice, around young people from New Zealand families, which was highlighted nationally and internationally, where we found young people from New Zealand backgrounds in my electorate and electorates like mine who may have left an unhappy family situation and were caught with no support from the Commonwealth. We found young people involved in illegal activity so that they could feed themselves or find somewhere to sleep or young people couch surfing because they weren't entitled to the supports that other young Australian people were entitled to.

Of course, the advocacy work in that space became something that was taken up. In government we are now looking at: the citizenship processes for New Zealand families, which would alleviate those young people of those things; tenancy advice around, if you can't pay your bills, which bills you should pay first to ensure that you don't lose the roof over your head; legal centres that are setting up those advice clinics in local areas; and the hospital presence, which was first piloted by West Justice with Mercy Health, in my electorate, where they were on the ground and could see, particularly, women at their most vulnerable and give them legal advice.

West Justice is also renowned in my community for introducing the lawyers and schools program across Melbourne's west, where lawyers actually attend the school and give advice to families and students. It has been game changing in my electorate. I want to finish by noting the advice that they've given around tolls and the trouble people can get into with those toll fines in Victoria and the efforts they are making there.



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