Page 979 - Week 03 - Thursday, 23 March 2017
linguistically diverse backgrounds. These are some of the people who are most disadvantaged in the legal system and for whom community legal centres are an absolutely fundamental and critical source of support.
The ACT government is one of the few state and territory governments to supplement commonwealth funding for the Aboriginal Legal Service, and the only one to provide recurrent funding for this service. If we want to close the gap in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander overrepresentation in the justice system, the worst thing we could do would be to reduce funding for one of these services that provide support for people as they are making their way through the justice system. If we want to have a focus on early intervention and restorative justice, community legal centres are an absolutely critical part of that system.
I have been having a lot of conversations—and this will be of particular interest to you, Madam Assistant Speaker—with the disability community about disability access to justice. We have a commitment to the development of a disability justice strategy. Legal advice that is accessible and appropriate for people with disability, to understand the needs of community members who come from vulnerable backgrounds, is absolutely crucial to ensuring that people are treated fairly within our justice system.
As you know, Madam Assistant Speaker, through the parliamentary agreement the government has committed to continue existing funding for legal services and to consider whether further funding is required. And we committed to fund the Environmental Defenders Office for at least two years from November last year.
While of course we are pleased that the commonwealth has funded the Women’s Legal Centre and Legal Aid to establish dedicated domestic violence legal services in the ACT, as my colleague Minister Ramsay has said, that is only one piece of the puzzle. There are much bigger issues that need to be addressed across the system, and that is why the Productivity Commission, as noted in the motion, recommended that funding to community legal centres be increased each year from both the federal and state and territory governments.
I think this motion in many ways speaks for itself, but I did want to put on record how absolutely critical the community legal centres are for the people that are supported within my portfolios and how critical they are to ensuring that our system is based on a fair go in the legal system and that it is a restorative system. I want to quote from Street Law supervising solicitor Anusha Goonetilleke, who said in a recent article:
Canberra Community Law provides early intervention by running training for clients and support workers about identifying a legal issue and their rights under the law.
It is about not just the individuals who are coming into contact with the legal system but the community legal centres that provide support across the community sector to ensure that workers across the sector are able to deal with and support people as they go through the justice system or before they get involved in the justice system. It is really crucial to early intervention and prevention in the system, as my colleagues