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Parliamentary Questions

Question Without Notice No. 319 asked in the Legislative Council on 2 April 2020 by Hon Peter Collier

Parliament: 40 Session: 1

Answered on

CORONAVIRUS — LEGAL AID WA

319. Hon PETER COLLIER to the Leader of the House representing the Attorney General:

I ask this question on behalf of Hon Michael Mischin, who is on urgent parliamentary business.

I refer to the Attorney General's media release of 31 March titled ''Legal Aid increases help to Western Australians amid COVID-19 crisis'', wherein he claims —

Western Australians who are experiencing hardship because of COVID-19 now have greater access to legal support, with Legal Aid WA increasing its services in the community.

(1) By what measurable amount have services been increased?

(2) By what figure have appointments in the area of high need been increased?

(3) To what extent has the announced increase in services been at the cost of other services, and which services and to what extent?

(4) Have any additional resources or funds been allocated to Legal Aid WA to provide the increased services in areas of high need; and, if so, precisely what resources or funds and from where have those resources or funds been drawn?

(5) If the resources or funds have been reallocated within Legal Aid WA to help provide the increased services in areas of high need, precisely what resources and funds and from where have those resources or funds been drawn?

I think that is about three questions!

The PRESIDENT: Yes. I am not sure how we are going with the definition of ''concise'' on that, and I anticipate that we will not meet that with the answer either!

Hon SUE ELLERY replied:

We will not, Madam President. It is a very long answer. I would not normally do this, but on the basis that it is about two and a half pages long, I seek leave to have it incorporated into Hansard.

Leave granted.

The following material was incorporated —

(1) By what measurable amount have services been increased?

Legal Aid WA is increasing the number of civil law legal assistance services to Western Australians who are experiencing hardship because of COVID 19. Legal Aid WA is now providing more appointments in areas of high need including employment law, mortgage hardship, elder abuse, consumer protection, credit and debt and financial hardship. Specialist immigration law advice is also available to anyone residing in Western Australia on a temporary visa (such as a partner visa) who is experiencing family and domestic violence. The number of civil law legal advice appointments has increased by 10 per week, with additional appointments being added as demand continues to increase.

Legal Aid WA has responded to the anticipated increase in family violence in Western Australia by increasing the capacity of Legal Aid WA's telephone Infoline, with a high priority on family violence related matters. 10 duty lawyers that are experienced dealing with family violence matters have been reallocated to provide assistance on family violence related matters. 5 Legal Aid Staff have been reallocated and trained to deliver triage advice appointments in Family Violence and will take direct referrals from the Infoline. Legal Aid will continue to provide family violence related legal advice, duty lawyer and legal representation services. This includes continuing Family Violence Restraining Order duty lawyer services; protection and care duty lawyer services; and the family violence legal support services at the Family Court of WA both for Perth and regional circuits;

In response to covid-19, Legal Aid WA has developed new fact sheets and two-minute videos that are available on the Legal Aid WA website. These new resources provided targeted information on employment law, financial hardship, immigration law, co-parenting order, and criminal law duty lawyer services. The new covid-19 resources on the Legal Aid WA website have been accessed by over 400 unique viewers since the resources were uploaded on Thursday 26 March.

Legal Aid WA has allocated more resources to support its online chat service and its telephone Infoline to meet the needs of people self-isolating at home. At this point there has been no increase in demand for services delivered through Infoline or Infochat, however we expect an increase as the more WA residents self-isolate at home. To prepare for this expected increase in demand 5 Legal Aid Staff have been reallocated and trained to take referrals from Infoline and deliver triage advice appointments in Family Violence.

(2) By what figure have appointments in areas of 'high need' been increased?

There has been an increase of 10 appointments per week of civil law legal advice appointments. This number will increase as the demand for the service continues to increase. To support this 6 civil law lawyer are now available to take on new appointments as demand continues to increase.

The capacity for Legal Aid WA to provide legal advice on family violence has increased with 10 duty lawyers reallocated to provide advice, and 5 legal aid staff reallocated to provide triage service on referrals from the Infoline. The expected increase in family violence is based on the data that has emerged from other countries affected by covid-19.

(3) To what extent has the announced increase in services been at the cost of other services, and which and to what extent?

Legal Aid WA has re-allocated resources from areas that have 'slowed' due to COVID-19 to other areas that will experience a surge in demand. Changes in the Courts listing arrangements including in respect of the personal attendance of clients and solicitors at Courts has facilitated the availability of these staff to provide telephone advice and representation as required. Community Legal Education has significantly reduced due to restrictions on group gatherings. These areas with surplus capacity enable a re-allocating of staff and resources to emerging COVID-19 legal issues.

(4) Have any additional resources or funds been allocated to Legal Aid WA to be able to provide the increased services in 'areas of high need' and, if so, precisely what resources or funds and from where have those resources or funds been drawn?

The reduction No additional resources or funds have been allocated to Legal Aid WA. The increased services in areas of high need are due to internal re-allocations of resources.

(5) If resources or funds have been re-allocated within Legal Aid WA to be able to provide the increased services in 'areas of high need' precisely what resources and funds and from where have those resources or funds been drawn?

Please see answer to 3. In addition, LegalResources from the Family Court Duty Lawyers and FASS services have been redirected to offer Triage and Legal Advice over the phone. Legal Aid reception staff have been retrained to provide services to support Infoline and InfoChat.