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As chair of the Legal Aid Queensland Board, I am delighted to introduce our annual report for 2020–21.
This report highlights the organisation’s achievements and challenges over the past year as we continued to deliver a wide range of legal services to vulnerable and disadvantaged people around Queensland.
It has been an honour to work with the Legal Aid Queensland Board, management team and staff this reporting year and I am delighted Ms Sandra Deane and Mr Allan Welsh have been recently reappointed to serve on the board for a further three years.
I also congratulate Ms Nicky Davies on her permanent appointment as Legal Aid Queensland’s chief executive officer (CEO). Ms Davies is an experienced lawyer and manager who has worked for the organisation for more than two decades, having joined as a family lawyer in 1996. She did an excellent job as acting CEO for an extended period and under challenging circumstances, ably guiding the organisation through much of its response to the pandemic. Ms Davies has a clear positive vision for the organisation as well as a commendable sense of social justice and a valuable depth of understanding of our work environment. The board looks forward to continuing to work with Ms Davies and her management team over the next five years as together we shape the organisation’s exciting future.
With Ms Davies’ appointment as CEO, I note that we have achieved another significant milestone—60 percent of the organisation’s executive team are now women, matching the 60 percent women membership of its board. And overall, 77 percent of Legal Aid Queensland’s professionals and staff are now women, again leading the way for positive change. By contrast, according to Australia’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency, women are still underrepresented in key decision-making roles across almost all industries in the Australian workforce with only 18 percent of women holding the position of CEO, 14 percent as board chairs and 32.5 percent in key management positions—despite the fact women make up 50 percent of the workforce. When the Legal Assistance Committee—the beginnings of legal aid delivery in Queensland beyond the Public Defender’s Office—first met in 1966, there were no women in leadership roles. Gender equity has certainly come a long way. I congratulate the organisation on its leadership in this field, putting us well ahead of even Queensland Government targets.
As for all organisations, navigating the COVID-19 pandemic has been a continued challenge for us during 2020–21. It has been a year of flux, with life slowly returning to something approaching the new COVID-19 normal at Legal Aid Queensland in the latter half of 2020, with periods of relaxed restrictions followed by spot virus outbreaks and multiple short lockdowns in the first half of 2021. Throughout, our professionals, staff and management team have shown great resilience and adaptability, without wavering from their commitment to delivering quality legal services to our clients, using technology to adapt to the rapidly changing legal and administrative landscape. I commend everyone on their agility and steadfast client-focus as we move through these unprecedented times.
In 2020–21, we continued to refine our profile as a Centre of Excellence, sharing our considerable expertise in criminal, family and civil law with the legal and community service delivery sectors, as well as the broader public. In November 2020, we released the updated Domestic and Family Violence Best Practice Framework, which combined expertise from Legal Aid Queensland and the Queensland Law Society to help all practitioners deliver consistent,
high-quality advice and support to those experiencing domestic violence. The framework includes seven best practice principles for working with people experiencing domestic and family violence, including how to prioritise safety, how to communicate respectfully and appropriately, and how to collaborate optimally with other services. In February 2021, we followed with our updated How to apply for a domestic violence order guide, which takes people through the application process, including how to complete the necessary forms and what to expect in court. The guide is now extensively used throughout the sector and is publicly available on the Legal Aid Queensland website, where it can be viewed or downloaded without charge.
Over the last 12 months we continued to implement our First Nations Strategic Plan 2018–22, which sets out the steps we are taking to become an employer of choice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lawyers and staff, and a Centre of Excellence for legal service delivery to Queensland’s First Nations people. Our organisation continues to be enriched by increasing numbers of talented Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander professionals and staff. Before we adopted this plan, our percentage of First Nations staff was 3.08 percent (2017–18). That figure has already grown to 4.64 percent, again well exceeding the 3 percent Queensland Government target.
This year, our First Nations staff delivered cultural capability training to our regional office staff and helped us ramp up our community and stakeholder engagement across greater Brisbane and regional Queensland. We also established a First Nations portal on our staff intranet, appropriately launched during NAIDOC Week 2020. The portal features First Nations news, events, resources and stories, as well as information about how we are working to achieve our First Nations Strategic Plan objectives. In April, I attended a moving event, organised and presented by our First Nations staff to commemorate 30 years since the tabling of the report from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. This landmark report, and the shocking fact of 474 Aboriginal deaths in custody since its tabling, highlights the urgency of addressing the over-representation of First Nations people in our child protection, youth and criminal justice systems, and especially in our youth detention centres, watch houses and jails.
Finally, I thank everyone who has contributed to Legal Aid Queensland’s efforts this year. It takes many busy hands, big hearts and fine brains to use the limited public funds at our disposal to best ensure disadvantaged and vulnerable Queenslanders have access to quality legal services, right across our vast, decentralised and multicultural state. I acknowledge, of course, all our wonderful professionals, our staff and our management team. I also thank our hardworking preferred supplier law firms and the counsel they brief, who together perform a great public service in delivering access to justice on our behalf at greatly reduced rates. I thank those who run the wonderful community legal centres, a pivotal part of the delivery of legal services to Queenslanders in most need. I warmly acknowledge the vital ongoing financial support from Queensland Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, Minister for Women and Minister
for the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence the Hon. Shannon Fentiman MP, and also from federal Attorney-General and Minister for Industrial Relations Senator the Hon. Michaelia Cash. Without that support, our work would not be possible. And thank you to each of my Legal Aid Queensland Board colleagues with whom I have again so much enjoyed working this year. Thank you all. The talent, focus and commitment of everyone contributing to Legal Aid Queensland’s vital work continues to renew and inspire me. I very much look forward to working with you all again, as together we embrace the challenges of 2021–22.
Margaret McMurdo AC
Chairperson, Legal Aid Queensland Board
Last updated 14 October 2021