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From the CEO: A pastoral question

Every Issue

Cite as: (2008) 82(10) LIJ, p. 6

How best to attract people to, and keep them in, regional areas is an issue confronting many professional bodies, not just the LIV.

The LIV believes the retention of good quality professional people in rural and regional areas is paramount in maintaining the infrastructure of those regions.

The problem of attracting staff to and retaining them in rural and regional areas is not unique to the legal profession.

The medical, education, engineering and other professions are also finding similar problems in finding and keeping professionals employed in the regions.

In view of the understanding that this is not just about lawyers, the LIV has begun consultation with other professions to endeavour to develop a paper to lobby government which offers a variety of ways to achieve a realistic attraction and retention scheme.

The Victorian government has recently recognised the plight of country areas by pledging an additional $3000 first home bonus to first home buyers purchasing homes in regional Victoria.

This government's willingness to put resources into rural areas, although extremely encouraging, is only a small part

of the incentives that will be needed to achieve an attractive retention scheme.

The federal government has also acknowledged the problem. Its 20/20 Summit earlier this year also identified the welfare of Australian rural communities as one of its key priorities.

In view of this, the LIV proposed at the last Law Council of Australia (LCA) directors meeting that the shortage of professionals in these areas was so serious that a study and submission to the federal government should be undertaken.

In response the LCA delegated this project back to the LIV, and we will research and prepare a submission on behalf of the LCA.

The LIV sought input from the country law associations to assist in formulating its original paper which went to the LCA, and will continue to consult with the associations and regional firms on this matter.

LIV vice-president Danny Barlow, who is from Shepparton, is overseeing this matter on our behalf.

Attempts to attract professionals to rural areas generally focus on short-term benefits, such as the provision of incentives, financial and otherwise.

However, for a realistic retention scheme, these would need to be coupled with state and federal government initiatives to recruit professionals to rural areas, along with incentives by local government, professional associations and rural communities themselves. Such incentives could include:

  • repaying (partially or completely) HECS-HELP liabilities;
  • scholarships;
  • grants;
  • preferential treatment for transfers, particularly among government employees;
  • additional annual leave;
  • monetary allowances and bonuses for relocation;
  • tax breaks for working in remote areas;
  • subsidised or free housing;
  • salary packaging options for mortgage or rent assistance;
  • training programs; and
  • locum programs.

The LIV's view the maintenance of the rural and regional infrastructure is an imperative in the growth and development of Australia.

In the meantime there is a challenge for rural professions and particularly for solicitors to look at the development of programs - particularly based around the local municipality and community - with other professional organisations to assist in the attraction and retention of recent graduates.

It is no longer sufficient to simply offer a better lifestyle; there is a requirement to offer tangible financial benefits.

The LIV welcomes government moves to set up an independent Costs Court.

Legislation to establish the Court, which will have the power to resolve litigation cost disputes, was introduced into the Victorian Parliament in August.

We hope Parliament will give its support to this legislation and allow the speedy establishment of such a court.

The LIV has long supported a Costs Court, mooting such an idea in writing to the Attorney-General in early 2003.

We are aware that costs disputes are a major reason for complaints against lawyers, and believe that the special jurisdiction will assist in providing greater efficiency and clarity in resolving these disputes.

Under the proposed legislation the Costs Court will sit as part of the Trial Division of the Supreme Court and, while the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, Supreme, County and Magistrates' Courts will retain a role in assessing some costs, the new court will have a broad jurisdiction to hear and determine the assessment, settling, taxation or review of costs in proceedings.

Michael Brett Young ceo@liv.asn.au

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