LEGAL PROFESSION AND PUBLIC NOTARIES AMENDMENT BILL 2012

It is always a pleasure to follow the member for Frankston in debate, and in particular to follow the member for Richmond.

It was interesting that today we had the government trying to shut down a debate on jobs and the jobs crisis in this state, and yet we have had the member for Frankston wanting to speak about the government’s commitment to growing the economy, apparently through providing the opportunity for more lawyers to do pro bono work.

An honourable member — A lawyer-led recovery; that is what we want.

Ms GARRETT — A lawyer-led recovery. Apparently this will reduce the amount of red tape in the state. I was a lawyer for seven years — some would say seven years of your life you will not get back. But a bunch of lawyers determining what cases they might pick and choose to do pro bono across the entire state does not necessarily lead to a reduction in red tape or correspondence flying around the joint. We want to talk about growing the economy, as we did this morning during the matter of public importance when there was an attempt to so rudely shut us down. We would again like to talk about why there is no jobs plan, and this pro bono bill — —

Honourable members interjecting.

Ms GARRETT — I think you were in this house listening to the member for Frankston’s contribution, which was wide in its scope, so I think I have earnt some latitude.

If the government views this as growing the economy, as a central pillar in its four-pillar stand, good luck to it.

As I said, for seven years I worked as a lawyer. During that time I worked at Holding Redlich as an articled clerk doing pro bono work for the stolen generations. I spent most of my legal career at Slater and Gordon where doing pro bono work was part and parcel of our daily business. I am very proud of those firms and the work they do.

I also had the privilege of working for four years for the then Attorney-General, Rob Hulls. I worked closely with my colleague the honourable member for Richmond, who was Parliamentary Secretary for Justice at the time. I then continued in the Premier’s office.

I want this on the record because I am very proud of that time and the work that the then Attorney-General did in conjunction with the Bracks and Brumby governments in opening up access to justice for many Victorians.

When we are talking about access to justice, pro bono work by the legal profession is but a part. It is right that members of the legal profession engage in pro bono work. It is often an elite profession. It holds the key for many people to access basic rights and to seek justice. The legal profession has a language all of its own, and many people are excluded from exercising their basic rights if the profession does not offer a proper portal for them, so pro bono work is very important. But in terms of access to justice, nothing will come close to properly funded legal aid and community legal centres. Anyone who has worked at a community legal centre or had a close connection with legal aid knows the number of cases and issues one has to deal with.

Some of them are very uninteresting, some of them are not sexy, and they are certainly not the big headline cases that some of the more well-paid lawyers may be interested in doing on a pro bono basis. These things are churning through the system every day, and the dedicated lawyers who work on those cases, often for very little remuneration and outside normal hours, should be given absolute support.

A pro bono scheme — and many were introduced and supported throughout the term of the previous government — should never pretend to replace what is crucial, and that is adequately funded legal aid and community legal centres. While the opposition does not oppose the bill and while we absolutely support and believe it is imperative that the legal profession properly engages in pro bono services, this is just one part of the picture. It is certainly not an excuse or the basis for growing the economy, although the member for Frankston certainly thinks so.

What we need from the government is a comprehensive jobs plan. We have talked about that and should be talking about it more, and while we do not oppose the bill, we call on the government to not only fiddle around the edges of pro bono but to adequately resource those front-line services that ensure that so many Victorians, particularly the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, get access to justice.

Hansard, 2012