Imagine a capacity crowd at the MCG, either on Grand Final Day or perhaps day one of the Boxing Day Test; picture all those people in your head, about 100,000.
Then, add to them the 50,000 screaming fans from a Lang Park Sate of Origin decider. Finally, throw in the number of solicitors in Queensland. Got that image — over 160,000 people — in your mind’s eye?
That is how many people Australia’s Community Legal Centres (CLCs) turn away every year — and the number is growing. I use sports stadiums (and our membership) because it is hard for humans to comprehend huge numbers, and I hope it puts into perspective the level of crisis our CLCs are experiencing.
The worst part is, it is most certainly not the lack of lawyers that causes centres to turn people away; it is not having the staff to administer them, the phones to speak with them or for that matter any place to sit and talk to them. In fact, it isn’t just clients that CLCs turn away, they turn away volunteer lawyers who want to help the clients.
The bottom line is of course money, and being in pre-election budget season it seems like a good time to talk about it. You’d think with that many votes potentially on the line (let alone compassion for your fellow person) the big parties would be falling over themselves to offer up CLC funding, but you would be wrong. With the budget dust settling, at best we are being promised more or less of the same, but certainly nothing like enough.
Adequate funding for CLCs is, somewhat sadly, a regular feature of the QLS Call to Parties Statement in the lead up to federal and state elections. That said, I can assure you that the parties will get sick of it before we do. QLS has no intention of relenting in our advocacy until these vital parts of our community get the funding they need.
Their fine work, in stepping up and being a voice for the voiceless and champions of the downtrodden, is the epitome of what it means to be a solicitor. I am very proud that it is through the efforts of our members (and our colleagues at the bar and in other states) that this work is made possible. With that sort of spirit as my inspiration, I’m hardly going to get tired of pushing this barrow!
Speaking of standing up for the voiceless, and indeed protecting the vulnerable, another item in our Call to Parties Statement is that we get serious about combatting elder abuse. My wife often acts for victims of this pernicious ill, which is becoming more prevalent in our society, and her clients’ stories can shock me — and I have been a criminal lawyer for 30 years.
Prominent among the solutions to this problem is the urgent implementation of the key recommendations as set out in the report by the Australian Law Reform Commission: ‘Elder Abuse – A National Legal Response’ (ALRC Report 131). No sane, compassionate government could fail to protect those who built the largesse and freedom on which the rest of us live — we hope.
I close by thanking those who created our Call to Parties Statement — the hard-working solicitors in our Legal Policy Team, and of course the dedicated members of our QLS committees who give freely of their time in this noble cause. I know from talking to our team that it is common to receive material from our committee members, sent via email late at night as they give up free time (and sleep) for the greater good.
I say again, with inspiration like that I am not about to stop pushing all politicians for these urgently needed reforms. I hope for their sake that the pollies are listening, because I am not even close to tired!
Until next time, be safe, be happy and be there for one another.