Legal Profession And Public Notaries Amendment Bill 2012

There was a slight moment of uncoordination on our side of the house. I very much look forward to the member for Brunswick making an erudite and skilled contribution — which is usual for her — because she is a legal practitioner of very significant standing.

The Legal Profession and Public Notaries Amendment Bill 2012, as we have heard from members who have contributed to the debate thus far this evening, obviously has support from members on both sides of the house. I reflect — and you, Acting Speaker, have quite rightly instructed members who have debated on this bill to return to addressing the substance of the bill — that it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the extraordinary contribution made by the former Attorney-General, the former member for Niddrie, who was a reformer, to the public discourse of this state for 11 years. In a bipartisan way I can say he put in place reforms to the legal profession which were not only were welcomed but which blew fresh air into the corridors of the legal establishment.

The bill is an initiative that the opposition clearly supports. The use of pro bono legal services is crucial. There may be an impediment whereby the skills of corporate lawyers and government in-house lawyers are not used or made available more generally in relation to pro bono work. I understand that in the order of 2700 legal practitioners will be freed up to do this pro bono work in the future. That can only be a good thing, and we think it is important that that occurs.

I recall my background in relation to the formation of the Flemington legal service with my dear colleague and friend Neil Cole, a former and distinguished member of this house and former shadow Attorney-General. He pursued a tireless career as a community lawyer and played a part in the establishment of the Flemington legal service.

As the member for Prahran quite rightly indicated, the Flemington legal service was established not long after the iconic Fitzroy Legal Service was established, which was the first legal service established in this state. Great luminaries such as John Cain, Sr, were involved, along with many other senior members of the bar and the judiciary.

If the member for Brunswick had spoken before me, I know she would have made reference to the Law Handbook because of her legal studies and her legal work. For any practising lawyer it is one of the guiding bibles, and it is published annually. I must say it is now published online, which is a very good thing. It used to be an enormous ring-clipped folder which you had to leaf through to find the latest amendments and so forth. It is a wonderful document. Pro bono work by expert practitioners was fundamental to the production of this crucial legal handbook, which continues to be sponsored by the Fitzroy Legal Service with the expert advice of the pro bono legal practitioners available to that service.

I acknowledge that the member for Prahran spent some time working at the Fitzroy Legal Service, as have so many others. It is important that legal practitioners take the opportunity to go to the Homeless Persons Legal Service, the Public Interest Law Clearing House and other community legal services, because it keeps the legal profession in touch with what members of the community are confronting.

In particular it is an education to go to some of those specialist legal services where you deal with many clients who come from the most impoverished situations one could imagine. As the member for Prahran quite rightly said, he gained in education as much as he gave in contributing to the operations of the Fitzroy Legal Service.

In supporting the bill I acknowledge my great friend and colleague Neil Cole. I acknowledge the extraordinary work that is done by our legal services more generally and the opportunity for expertise to be unleashed or opened up by this relatively minor but important amendment bill. People in the legal community have a strong appetite for doing more pro bono or philanthropic work in the community, and that urge can be satisfied by the provisions of this bill. Opportunities will attend the freeing up of many corporate lawyers and in-house lawyers, who will now be able to practise in the community in a fuller way.

It is great for those practitioners, but it is particularly important to community legal centres, which will now be able to encourage expert practitioners to work for them on a pro bono basis.

I have an interest in community legal centres that arises from my own background in that area. They, more than any other legal service, address the issues that confront some of the most vulnerable people in our community. That can only be to the benefit of not only those who attend the centres but also the broader community. In that respect I encourage members of the legal profession to take up this opportunity. I am sure they will, and that will be a great outcome.

Notaries are extremely important, particularly for members of migrant communities who have to have documents certified or witnessed or have materials transferred overseas, because of the international context and international recognition that attends the position of notary.

Notaries have international standing. We must ensure that we have — indeed we do have — the highest standards in this country in relation to notaries, and the amendments made by the bill further strengthen these standards.

We wish the bill a speedy passage. It is evident that it is supported by both sides of the house. It is important that we get the position of notary right and that we have a sound structure around notaries. It is also important that we enable members of the legal profession to satisfy their strong urge and realise their strong commitment to reach out further away from their general professional practice and offer more back to the community. I commend the bill to the house.