Page 977 - Week 03 - Thursday, 23 March 2017

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In that context, Madam Assistant Speaker, it is absolutely disappointing that right at this time, right when we need it most, the funding is being pulled from our community legal centres. I commend the motion.

MR RAMSAY (Ginninderra—Attorney-General, Minister for Regulatory Services, Minister for the Arts and Community Events and Minister for Veterans and Seniors) (11.33): I support the original motion and oppose the amendment that has been moved. The government supports the motion because support for the community legal centres makes sense on every level. For many, legal centres make the justice system more accessible, they provide targeted support for some of the most vulnerable people in our community and, finally, they make economic sense. Investments in CLCs contribute to a more efficient justice system, because we know that justice is only true justice when it is accessible, transparent and timely.

Community legal centres help to achieve true justice by giving the most vulnerable members of our community a voice in the legal system. The advice and the representation they give helps people to understand the processes and to ensure that their rights and interests are protected. The decisions made in our courts can have a profound effect on people’s lives. Decisions about family relationships, debts and property are made regularly.

For the most part, these decisions are made in an adversarial process that depends on competent representation. Good court outcomes depend on arguments being made about the law and the facts in each case. People who come before our courts without any chance of being represented are at a high risk. People who have legal problems before the court processes begin are at risk if they are unable to receive solid advice. That is because without any advice or representation the legal system can be quite difficult to navigate.

An all too common example of how this works in practice is someone who is struggling with debt. A notice that a debt is owing can be confronting. An unresolved debt can have serious consequences, up to and including homelessness. Legal advice makes people aware of options for negotiation, payment plans and ways to question those debts. If you look at the annual reports in the work of our community legal centres there are numerous examples of where dire consequences have been avoided through some very basic help. That help can be as simple as seeing that Centrelink did not have the right information to make a decision, and writing a letter on a person’s behalf, or it could be negotiating a payment plan with a landlord to settle unpaid rent.

On every practical level—and apart from the barriers to justice that it creates—navigating the courts without advice is more costly, and it takes time. Part of what lawyers add to the process is knowing where the legal issues are and what pieces of paper need to be filed to help the court make the right decision. A well-prepared court makes matters run more efficiently and is focused on outcomes.

The Productivity Commission, which has been cited in this motion, makes clear that cuts to legal assistance are phantom savings to a wider area of law. The reason we oppose the amendment and will be supporting the original motion is that Mr Hanson

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