I rise this afternoon to speak on the annual report of Victoria Legal Aid entitled Helping Victorians with their Legal Problems. I have spoken on a number of occasions in this place on the Victoria Legal Aid organisation, as I take a particular interest in its progress and what it does, it being a very important aspect of our legal and justice system here in Victoria. Victoria Legal Aid is at the coalface of the justice system, and it is there supporting our most vulnerable citizens.
In the limited time that I have to speak on this report I would like to focus on family violence, an area where legal aid plays a crucial role. It is no secret that the organisation suffered financially as a result of the previous Liberal-Nationals government, and the impacts were very clear to see. It was a significant piece in the puzzle of what was failing in our justice system under the previous government.
Members in the chamber may recall and may have read — I know many on this side of the chamber have read it — the Auditor-General’s report tabled in August last year entitled Access to Legal Aid. The report was on legal aid services in Victoria. At that time I spoke on that report, and it was report that was very critical of the previous government’s continued cuts to Victoria Legal Aid’s budget, severely limiting its ability to provide crucial support in our communities, particularly in the area of family violence. Due to the severe cuts, there was an increasing number of family law matters in the courts where the participants were without legal representation. On occasions where family violence issues were before the courts, the proceedings included victims of severe family violence being questioned by the perpetrator of that violence.
As stated on page 4 of the annual report, the organisation plays an important role in delivering information, advice and legal representation to women, men and children who are affected by family violence. To take money away from Legal Aid is to take money away from the fight against family violence.
During the reporting period, Victoria Legal Aid made a two–year multimillion-dollar commitment to provide more legal services to people affected by family violence. I congratulate it on this initiative. This is absolutely in line with this government’s approach to tackling domestic violence. It goes without saying that legal aid is an important ally in fighting this stain on our society.
As stated on page 4 of the report, Victoria Legal Aid also made a submission to the Royal Commission into Family Violence, which includes 35 recommendations to improve the legal response to family violence. It is up to every single one of us to fight against the continued prevalence of family violence. In its submission Victoria Legal Aid points to a whole range of areas that need to be improved.
It is also the role of government to support the fight against family violence, and I am proud that this government is putting its money where its mouth is. It was only just last week that I had the great pleasure of announcing a grant of $50 000 for Emma House Domestic Violence Services in the south-west, which is one of 28 recipients of the government’s Community Legal Centre Assistance Fund. Emma House also received a second grant of over $52 000 to provide for the part-time employment of a solicitor — three days per week — to address the increasing demand at the Portland and Hamilton courts.
Victoria Legal Aid and our community legal centres have a critical role to play in providing essential services to disadvantaged and vulnerable Victorians. The Andrews government knows this intricately and will continue to support it in the way governments can and should do. I commend the report to the house. But I wish to raise in the house tonight that there was a 19 per cent increase in the need for services by legal aid in the area of child protection and family violence, and that is a very sore point indeed.