The Opposition is pleased to join in supporting this motion to congratulate Legal Aid New South Wales on its thirtieth anniversary today and to recognise the essential work that it does in delivering legal representation, legal advice and legal education to so many people throughout New South Wales. Legal Aid New South Wales is an important body for the proper working of the justice system in New South Wales. It is important because of the legal representation that it gives to those in New South Wales who are disadvantaged or who, for other reasons, are unable to obtain legal representation. Justice must not only be done but should be seen to be done, and Legal Aid New South Wales helps to ensure that happens. The homepage of Legal Aid New South Wales states:
That is why Legal Aid New South Wales is so important, in fact, so pivotal to the rule of law in our State, to the administration of justice and to the principle of equal access for all to the justice system in New South Wales. Legal Aid New South Wales allows our legal system to be accessible to the most disadvantaged, to those who may be disabled and to those from non-English speaking backgrounds. Legal Aid New South Wales helps to ensure that justice and legal representation are available to all, regardless of financial or social status. Legal Aid New South Wales works with a whole range of community groups to achieve its aim of equal justice for all. It works with community legal centres, with Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander legal services and with legal practitioners in the private sector. In fact, during 2007-08 lawyers in the private sector provided more than 40 per cent of its case and duty services.
Today we honour and pay tribute to the personnel who make up Legal Aid New South Wales. In years gone by, when I was practising as a lawyer in the private sector, I had numerous dealings with the legal aid system of New South Wales, and I can give testimony to the fact that I found its personnel hardworking and dedicated. They handle and face many challenges as part of their professional duties and they do so with professionalism and understanding, and with a true motivation for community service. New South Wales can be proud of those who work within Legal Aid New South Wales as well as the legal practitioners in private practice who provide their services at remuneration levels far below what they would earn in the private sector for providing the same legal services.
The services provided by Legal Aid New South Wales are wide, varied and extensive. In 2007-08 it provided 641,884 client services, which is an 80.6 per cent increase over five years; it represented more than 65,000 clients in legal matters; and its community legal education seminars increased from the previous year by 23.7 per cent. In 2007-08 Legal Aid New South Wales provided services to 23,355 clients in the area of mental health, more than 50 per cent of its expenditure was spent in criminal law, and more than 31 per cent was spent in family law services, with 7.4 per cent of its case and in-house duty services going to Aboriginal people.
But if this Government thinks that it can bask in the achievements of the hardworking and dedicated staff of Legal Aid New South Wales, it has another think coming. No credit attaches to this Government; the achievements of Legal Aid New South Wales have been achieved despite this Government. The truth of the matter is that Legal Aid New South Wales is grossly underfunded and grossly understaffed by this State Labor Government. Legal Aid New South Wales is restrained from providing legal services to thousands of people throughout New South Wales because of this State Labor Government. The truth is that many parts of New South Wales, such as Port Macquarie, are crying out for legal aid centres, but their cries are in vain. Thousands of citizens are denied proper access to justice because Legal Aid New South Wales just does not have enough resources to do the job that needs to be done.
Legal Aid New South Wales achieves outstanding results for the people of New South Wales but it is not a magician: It cannot stretch the insufficient resources that the Government deigns to dish out to it any further than it does. The Government should hang its head in shame for the shabby way it treats Legal Aid New South Wales, which carries on despite being under-resourced and understaffed. The services provided by Legal Aid New South Wales are outstanding, as is its outreach and professionalism, but there are thousands of citizens throughout New South Wales who are denied the services, the outreach and the professionalism of Legal Aid New South Wales because of funding restrictions imposed by the Government. I conclude by sending the best wishes of the Opposition to Legal Aid New South Wales and once again congratulate it on 30 years of fine service to the people of New South Wales.