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Wednesday, 18 March 2015
Page: 2864


Ms CLAYDON (Newcastle) (09:37): I rise today to pay tribute to the University of Newcastle Legal Centre and their innovative program, Law on the Beach. Law on the Beach is a free legal advice clinic staffed by undergraduate law students, juris doctor law students and lawyers from the University of Newcastle Legal Centre. Now in their twelfth year, these clinics, while open to all members of the Newcastle community, are particularly focused on young people and those members of our community who are disadvantaged in their dealings with the legal system and who would not otherwise be able to afford private legal services.

Operating from the meeting room of the Newcastle Surf Life Saving Club on Newcastle Beach, Law on the Beach is an ideal opportunity for students to put their legal knowledge into practice. For students, the experiential learning process involves interviewing clients without a lawyer being present, taking their instructions and analysing their legal problems. The students then meet with the legal centre's solicitor and, after this conference, the solicitor and students return to the client to provide advice and assistance regarding their individual legal issue. The casual beach setting puts clients at ease and, at the same time, provides a comfortable environment for students to acquire the techniques of client interviewing and real-life problem-solving.

This year the service expanded to include social work students, broadening the scope of support and information offered to the community. The inclusion of social work students in the beach clinics also provided opportunities for deep, interdisciplinary learning between law and social work students. This summer, Law on the Beach assisted more than 110 clients, covering a wide variety of legal matters including family law, debt and credit, criminal law, employment disputes and tenancy cases. I congratulate and thank the students, the solicitors and the social workers for providing this vital community service. I also thank the Newcastle Surf Life Saving Club for their ongoing support.

In the current climate of savage cuts to community legal centres, Law on the Beach clinics provide a very welcome opportunity for young people and those most vulnerable in our community to access free legal advice. Contrary to claims from the Abbott Liberal government that the funding cuts would have no impact on front-line legal services, there is now plenty of evidence to demonstrate that this is not the case, with victims of family violence and Indigenous Australians now bearing the brunt of these cuts. Indeed, all seven state and territory attorneys-general have now called on the federal Attorney-General, George Brandis, to reverse existing cuts made to legal services and to guarantee no further funding reductions will be made to legal aid commissions, community legal centres and Aboriginal legal services. Cutting funding to legal services which help vulnerable members of our community is short-sighted and ill-conceived. We can, and must, do better.

I thank the University of Newcastle law school for leading by example with its flagship Law on the Beach clinic, and I look forward to attending the beach clinics again next year.