National Access to Justice Conference 2017

National Access to Justice Conference 2017

Thursday, 23 March 2017

On March 23 and 24, the sixth National Access to Justice Conference was held in Adelaide. Under the broad theme of innovation and collaboration, our Managing Director Bevan Warner gave a presentation ‘Taking on the Productivity Commission Report’.

In his wide-ranging speech Bevan began by noting the lack of justice targets in closing the gap and he questioned the role of legal professionals in securing community support for closing the justice gap. He touched on the role of publicly funded legal assistance in meeting the social justice challenge to 'protect and enliven other people’s rights and to close the justice gap.'

Discussing the evidence gathered by the Productivity Commission – Bevan noted that it has been largely ignored. 'Australia’s premiere economic think tank has articulated the social and economic benefits of more publicly funded legal assistance and it has been ignored. Neither of the two main political parties has yet committed to its implementation.'

Bevan suggested that considering this, the challenge we face is how best to reframe the debate on justice. 'If research and evidence were enough to generate rational public policy choices, then the government would have acted on the advice of its peak economic advisory body and we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Research and evidence are important, but they are not enough.'

He called on those in attendance at the conference to challenge themselves to change. 'We need to move beyond the narrative of fear and put more effort into cultivating the language of hope.'

He emphasized framing debates around points of commonality rather than points of difference and 'demonstrating more inclusive and emotionally attuned leadership – reaching out and building new and unlikely alliances.'

'If we want a more rights-respecting society we need to take our engagement out to the community at large, and to respected groups with whom we traditionally have had little contact.'

Bevan concluded by stating that 'This can no longer be a discussion about politicians or the failure of bureaucracy. It needs to become a discussion about us, who we are talking to and how we can create the nation of our collective imagining.'

More information

Read Bevan Warner's speech notes – Access to Justice and Pro Bono Conference 23 March 2017 (docx, 106.22 KB)

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