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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2010 Week 07 Hansard (Wednesday, 30 June 2010) . . Page.. 2939 ..

The concept of unmet legal need is a difficult one to properly quantify. The survey will give us a much better analysis of that. I would hasten to add that unmet legal need is somewhat akin to asking how long is a piece of string. The more assistance you make available, the more cases will be progressed as a result. I am not saying that is a bad thing. Indeed, the more people who are able to get the legal advice they need, the better outcomes for them and the better resolution of the problems and disputes that they face. However, I think it would be unrealistic for members to expect that unmet legal need can be fully quantified and fully addressed through any process. There will always be some level of unmet need in the community, by the very nature of the types of issues that can be expanded into with expanded funding.

But that said, the government believes that this is a worthwhile discussion for the Assembly today. Community legal centres provide vital and important advice, assistance and advocacy for people in our community, particularly those people who face greater disadvantage because of their accommodation, because of their income, because of their employment or lack thereof, because of mental health or other health issues. These are centres that provide vital assistance to many people in our community.

The government are proud of the support we provide. We will continue to work to improve further support and funding to these centres and we will continue to work to assist them in providing the most appropriate accommodation so that they can deliver the services that are so valuable in our community.

MRS DUNNE (Ginninderra) (4:55): There is no doubt that community legal centres in the ACT provide a valuable service to those in our community who need legal help but often cannot afford to find it through commercial means. There is no doubt that there are people in our community who need legal help but who, for one reason or another, are unable to access those services or simply fall through the cracks, as Mr Rattenbury has suggested in his motion.

Indeed, even the government’s own Legal Aid Commission is unable to meet the demand placed on it. For instance, in answer to a question taken on notice during the estimates hearings this year, the commission indicated that, for their legal aid application approval rates to go back to 80 per cent, which is where they were a couple of years ago, they would need additional funding of about $788,000. As I said, $788,000 would restore their approval rates to what they were prior to taking measures in 2008-09 to contain the cost of grants to within the budget allocated by this government and the federal government and from other sources. But even that would leave a yawning gap in the legal services available to the needy in our community.

Further, there is no doubt that community legal centres operate in cramped and inadequate spaces. The Women’s Legal Centre is a case in point. In my visits there, I have noted—I think with some alacrity I had pointed out to me—the inadequacy of the space and equipment there. I also noted that they operate in an environment of questionable work safety, particularly in the area of the kitchen. But I understand that some of those issues have been addressed.

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