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START OF 2019–20 annual report
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As chair of the Legal Aid Queensland Board, I am delighted to introduce our annual report for 2019–20.
It has been an honour to work with the Legal Aid Queensland Board, management team and staff this reporting year and I am delighted Joshua Creamer and I have been recently reappointed to serve for a further three years.
This report highlights Legal Aid Queensland’s milestones, achievements and challenges over the past year as we continued to deliver our important work across this vast decentralised and culturally diverse state, providing quality, cost effective frontline legal services to those in need. Despite my close familiarity with the organisation, each time I read our annual report I am in awe at the extent and diversity of services we provide on our limited budget.
This year, we have been confronted with the unexpected—drought, bushfires and the first pandemic in more than a century. I am especially proud of how our organisation met the challenges of COVID-19 and worked so well with the rest of the justice system to keep our community functioning in lockdown.
This year’s report begins by outlining the progress Legal Aid Queensland made in the first half of the financial year to innovate, strengthen and improve access to justice for Queensland’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged community members.
I especially highlight Legal Aid Queensland’s development and implementation of a Youth Practitioner Certification training program. This will ensure the state’s youth justice lawyers who attended training sessions, either online or in person at 16 locations around Queensland, are best served to represent our at risk young people. I am immensely proud Legal Aid Queensland’s Youth Legal Aid team has embarked on this innovative knowledge-sharing which will increase youth justice lawyers’ understanding and awareness of cultural capability, developmental psychology and impairment, trauma, speech and language, and general competence in youth justice legislation. It will bring significant positive and lasting outcomes for young people in Queensland’s justice system.
In the second half of this reporting year, Legal Aid Queensland’s focus shifted to the COVID-19 pandemic response and recovery. Our lawyers and staff worked closely with the courts and our clients in a vastly changed working environment to maintain vital services while keeping our communities safe during the pandemic.
Although we cannot claim to have predicted this pandemic, our long-term risk prevention and strategic planning and our investment in IT infrastructure placed us in an excellent position to meet the unexpected. I thank our Audit Risk and Compliance Committee, chaired by board member Sandra Deane, and board and committee member Lucia Taylor, for their contribution to risk management. I also thank our chief information officer, Andrew Michajlow, and all staff and suppliers who have worked so hard during this time, quickly adapting our processes to ensure Legal Aid Queensland continued to almost seamlessly maintain our services to those in need. The organisation’s transformation to a work from home model within one week, including the remote approvals of grants of aid, was extraordinary.
Our Communication and Community Legal Education Team, led by Amanda Catania, kept everyone engaged as an organisation and in fine spirits.
The possibilities arising from adopting some long-term work from home arrangements on Legal Aid Queensland’s office accommodation needs will be monitored by our Accommodation Committee chaired by board member Allan Welsh during the coming year.
Towards the end of the reporting year, the Black Lives Matter movement shone the spotlight on human rights and racism, both internationally and locally. Queensland (along with the rest of the country) continues to witness over-representation of First Nations people in our criminal justice and child protection systems. The federal government’s recent Closing the Gap Partnership Agreement with state governments sets clear targets to decrease levels of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander incarceration and children in out of home care, as well as other health and wellbeing targets. Hopefully, this will contribute to a genuine improvement in the lives of current and future generations of First Nations people.
Legal Aid Queensland’s First Nations Advisory Committee, chaired by Joshua Creamer, is already striving to achieve these very outcomes. During the reporting year, the committee has implemented and refined our First Nations Strategic Plan launched in 2018. The plan’s four objectives are to increase awareness and accessibility of legal aid services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; to be a centre of excellence for culturally capable legal services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; to be a significant employer within the legal profession of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; and to contribute to developing a more equitable justice system that addresses the disparity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the broader legal profession.
Our staff have worked hard over the past year to build partnerships within our organisation and the legal and broader communities to provide a more inclusive, accessible and culturally sensitive and safe workplace for our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff and clients. The organisation has also enhanced its cultural awareness through a series of excellent presentations from highly regarded Northern Territory academic, lawyer and linguist, Benjamin Grimes. Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employment Plan has contributed to an increase in the number of First Nations employees (now 4.59 percent of staff) compared with 4.08 percent in 2018–19.
Thanks to both the federal and state governments—the disasters experienced over this reporting year have resulted in a commitment to a much needed and much appreciated injection of vital funding to Legal Aid Queensland.
In 2020–21, Legal Aid Queensland will receive funds for our Bushfire Legal Help service to those communities so badly affected during the fires. And in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, our frontline legal assistance service delivery will receive resourcing to help vulnerable and disadvantaged community members affected by the pandemic. These extra funds will allow us to provide extra services in the short term to counter what is already recognised as the dreadful fallout from this pandemic—unemployment, financial stress and domestic and family violence. Despite this welcome additional funding in the coming year, it is likely community need will see our services stretched even more tightly during 2020–21.
Finally, my heartfelt congratulations to Legal Aid Queensland’s former CEO, Anthony Reilly, who was appointed Queensland Ombudsman in July 2020. Thank you, Anthony, for your outstanding stewardship of Legal Aid Queensland over the past 10 years. You can be rightly proud of your contribution to this special organisation which plays an integral role in the justice system. The board has greatly benefited from your effective, collaborative, innovative and visionary management style. You will be deeply missed by the entire organisation. On behalf of the board and personally, I wish you and your family the very best in this exciting new stage of your impressive career of public service.
My warmest congratulations and thanks to Legal Aid Queensland’s Legal Practice senior director, Nicky Davies, who unhesitatingly stepped up to act as CEO. Nicky has experience acting in the role and is superbly placed to fill it until the new CEO is appointed. She will be well supported by our excellent senior management team.
There are so many who have contributed to Legal Aid Queensland’s pleasing performance this year. I thank the members of Queensland’s legal profession, particularly our hard-working service providers and our wonderful community legal centres. I gratefully acknowledge the vital ongoing support, financially and more broadly, of the federal Attorney-General, the Hon Christian Porter MP, and the Queensland Attorney-General, Minister for Justice and Leader of the House, the Hon Yvette D’Ath MP, and warmly thank them for it. And I thank the hard working and capable members of our board, our fine management team and the dedicated lawyers and staff on whose shoulders Legal Aid Queensland stands. I very much look forward to again working with them in 2020–21 for the benefit of Legal Aid Queensland’s clients, the justice system and the people of Queensland.
Margaret McMurdo AC
Chairperson, Legal Aid Queensland Board