Legal need is difficult to measure, fluctuates over time and is influenced by a range of factors, however it is clear that there is significant legal need in Australia. This has been highlighted by a number of key inquiries and reviews,1 including the key (but conservative and now outdated) Legal Australia–Wide (‘LAW’) Survey, which found that 50 per cent of respondents experienced one or more legal problems in the previous 12 months.2 While unmet legal need is more difficult to measure, the Productivity Commission estimates that ‘around 17% of the population or just over a third of those with any legal problem experienced some form of unmet legal need’.3
In each issue of the Alternative Law Journal, we run an Opinion. Although not necessarily the Opinion of the issue editors, sometimes it will be an editorial which attempts to unify the issue theme, and will point to issues raised in the edition. Other times, the Opinion will be a controversial piece designed to publicise or encourage discussion on a particular topic. But, no matter what, our Opinions are always worth reading. Here are the Opinions that we have published recently.
The annual reports of Victoria’s first Ombudsman, Sir John Dillon, appointed in 1973, listed with some pride the reforms his office had pushed through during its inaugural years of operation. Dillon was particularly pleased that he had secured beds for prisoners held in Pentridge Prison’s notorious H Division and had stopped the practice of prisoners breaking rocks.
Dillon also expressed surprise at the number of complaints he received from prisoners: in his first year of office, 391 out of the total of 1334 complaints.
While conditions in Victoria’s prisons have improved markedly over the decades, prisons are still the highest single source of complaints to my office.
The Australian Border Force Act 2015 (Cth) (‘the Act’) commenced on 1 July 2015. It places onerous secrecy restrictions on anyone who works for, or provides services to, the Australian Border Force (essentially Customs and Immigration and Border Protection workers or contractors) or the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (together known as the ‘Department’).
The Act is far-reaching. It covers state, territory and foreign government employees. Workers such as medical practitioners, allied health professionals, nurses, counsellors and teachers, need to be aware that when they are treating or otherwise providing services to asylum seekers, they are actually providing services to the Department. Consequently, they are subject to the secrecy provisions of the Act.
On 6 February 2015, after delivering a keynote address to the National Wellness for Law Forum, I was interviewed by Di Martin from Radio National. Towards the end of the interview, I was asked whether the pressure on young lawyers today is worse than it was for me. I agreed and said that I was concerned about the availability of jobs in particular. The interviewer then asked:
So, do you see this issue getting worse?
In turn, I replied that:
I think one is almost tempted to go to a law school and put up a sign saying ‘Beware: Toxic profession’.
Proposed higher education funding reforms are unfair to students and poorly designed policy. If they go through, Australia is sleepwalking towards the privatisation of its universities. And ironically they will be the death knell of our peak group, Universities Australia, which could not survive them for long. Let me explain.
These reforms are unfair to students. They have to lead to significant increases in student debt because this is part of the government’s case for them. Minister Pyne says the reforms are a way to bring fresh funding into universities, so he must assume that we will go further than just replace government cuts with higher tuition fees.