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START OF 2014-15 annual report
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On behalf of the board, I am pleased to introduce Legal Aid Queensland’s 2014–15 Annual Report.
The report highlights the important role Legal Aid Queensland continues to play in our justice system, delivering essential legal services to the state’s financially disadvantaged citizens.
The 2014–15 financial year has seen Legal Aid Queensland working with a new state government, and new state Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, the Hon Yvette D’Ath MP, following the change of government in February 2015. We have focused our efforts during the year on implementing the incoming government’s objectives for the community, which includes delivering quality frontline services and building safe, caring and connected communities.
This year has seen domestic and family violence in the national spotlight as an issue that is affecting families and communities across the country. That’s why the theme of this year’s annual report is “Providing legal help to Queenslanders affected by domestic and family violence”, highlighting the contribution Legal Aid Queensland is making to helping those affected by this crisis. Assisting women and children who have experienced domestic and family violence has been a priority for Legal Aid Queensland for more than 20 years. Our specialist domestic violence unit was established in January 1993 and our Women’s Legal Aid team started soon after in December 1994. The units amalgamated in 2012 to form our Violence Prevention and Women’s Advocacy team, which works tirelessly to assist those affected by domestic violence and to advance reforms in the domestic violence and violence prevention sectors.
The latest chapter in our ongoing efforts to assist those affected by domestic and family violence is our Southport Domestic Violence Duty Lawyer Service, which was launched in November 2014. In its recent budget, the Queensland Government announced it would provide Legal Aid Queensland with $1.1 million in extra funding in 2015–16 to expand the domestic violence duty lawyer service to a total of 14 sites across Queensland. I have no doubt expanding this service will help many Queenslanders who are experiencing domestic and family violence to access legal help.
I was also pleased to speak at the launch of Legal Aid Queensland’s Best practice guidelines for lawyers working with respondents in domestic violence proceedings in June 2015, which were launched by Deputy Chief Magistrate Leanne O’Shea. The guidelines join the organisation’s suite of best practice publications, and aim to ensure practitioners are delivering a consistent, high quality service to people who are respondents during the early stages of separation, domestic violence proceedings or related family dispute resolution conferences.
Another issue currently affecting Queensland is the ongoing drought in areas to the west of our state, with many farmers and rural producers experiencing financial hardship as a result. In June 2015, we expanded our Farm and Rural Legal Service, which provides assistance to primary producers who are experiencing financial hardship due to the impact of natural disasters on their businesses. The service focuses on providing legal advice and preparing and representing land owners at mediations with their financial institutions. Demand for the service increased substantially over the last two years as a result of cyclones, floods and the ongoing drought. To meet this demand, we have contracted three regional law firms to deliver the service on Legal Aid Queensland’s behalf, supplementing the services currently being delivered by the organisation’s specialist in-house lawyer.
We also showed our commitment to rural and regional Queensland during 2014–15 by upgrading our Rockhampton and Bundaberg regional offices and holding a board meeting at our Townsville office. Our regional offices provided a vital service to Queenslanders, ensuring that people have access to our services, no matter where they live in our state. Our Bundaberg office moved to new space within its existing premises in December 2014, which provided improved facilities for clients, including extra interview and conferencing facilities, and more room for staff. Our Rockhampton office was also expanded and refurbished, providing additional interview and conference facilities and office space. These upgraded facilities will ensure our offices can continue to meet the needs of their local communities now and into the future. The board held its June 2015 meeting at the Townsville Legal Aid office, which provided us with the opportunity to meet our staff, local preferred suppliers and partner organisations and discuss the key issues for the region. We look forward to visiting other regional offices in the years ahead.
The organisation has achieved some strong service delivery results for 2014–15 compared with 2013–14, including an increase in duty lawyer services, family dispute resolution conferences and in grants of aid. We also received positive results in our biennial client satisfaction survey, which showed an improved level of client satisfaction with our services compared with our last survey in 2013. Overall client satisfaction rated 7.7 out of 10, with in-house legal representation services scoring 8.6 out of 10. In the annual Queensland Government employee survey, our results also improved.
Continued prudent financial management has seen the organisation deliver its sixth operating surplus since 2009–10. The board is committed to long-term financial sustainability for the organisation so we can ensure service delivery within a fiscally challenging funding environment. In June 2015, we were advised that our Commonwealth funding for 2015–16 would be $1.5 million less than anticipated, which comes on top of the $3 million cut that was made in 2014–15. Most of our Commonwealth funding is spent on family law grants of aid. We have worked to address this issue by consulting with the legal profession and courts to find the best way to manage the funding cuts while continuing to provide quality legal services to those who need them the most.
The board is still committed to delivering fee increases for private lawyers who undertake legal aid work on the organisation’s behalf. In July 2014, we introduced increases to standard fees for criminal law matters focusing on court time for committals in the Magistrates Court, and pleas and trials in the District Court and Childrens Court of Queensland. During the year, the board approved an initiative which will see fees for grants of aid reviewed annually in consultation with the Industry Reference Group.
The board welcomed two new members during the year—Sandra Deane and Philip Askin—and farewelled long-serving board members Iyla Davies (board member since 2005) and Terry Browne (board member since 2011). On behalf of the board, I’d like to thank Iyla and Terry for their contributions to the board and wish them all the best for the future.
I would also like to thank the state Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, the Hon Yvette D’Ath MP, and the federal Attorney-General, Senator the Hon George Brandis QC, for their ongoing support for Legal Aid Queensland. The board looks forward to working with you during 2015–16. I would also like to thank former Attorney-General and Minister for Justice Jarrod Bleijie for his support during his time in office.
I would like to particularly thank the members of Queensland’s legal profession for their continued and unwavering support for Legal Aid Queensland and our many thousands of clients. Finally, I would like to record my and the board’s gratitude to our CEO, Anthony Reilly, and to all of the Legal Aid Queensland staff. Their dedication and commitment to providing much needed legal services to our clients, oftentimes in difficult and challenging circumstances, rightly is and should be an inspiration to all who believe in undertaking “public service” today.
Chairman, Legal Aid Queensland Board