PIAC marks 30 years of public interest advocacy

‘A new form of legal
aid to help mount test cases on issues which go beyond the dispute in question,
will soon be available through the Public Interest Advocacy Centre.’

That’s how the Sydney Morning Herald’s legal
correspondent, John Slee, reported PIAC’s arrival 30 years ago, in 1982.

The organisation opened
its doors on 29 July 1982 with just four staff members: PIAC director, and
barrister, Peter Cashman (pictured); solicitor Sue Bothmann; project officer Kate
Harrison; and secretary Jenny Reid.

Initially, PIAC was
established as a division of the Law Foundation. Its 11-member steering
committee included Law Foundation board members Terry Purcell and Anne Gorman,
former Attorney General John Maddison, and a Redfern Legal Centre solicitor (and now High Court judge),
Virginia Bell.

Consumer rights topped
the agenda in PIAC’s first year, with the organisation successfully challenging
the retrospective application of electricity price rises in NSW.

PIAC also focused in
its first year on the imprisonment of fine defaulters, seeking approval in the
Court of Appeal for a ‘time to pay’ principle. The argument was rejected.

‘PIAC has changed and adapted
over the years, but its ethos has remained strong and consistent,’ said current
chief executive, Edward Santow.

‘PIAC remains committed
to social justice, equality and consumer rights, and to promoting open and
accountable government. Our litigation and advocacy work, and our legal support
and training programs are focused on achieving these goals.

‘PIAC is shaped by the
people who work here and by those who have contributed to the organisation over
the past 30 years.

‘I sincerely thank all
of the organisation’s past and present staff and supporters.

‘I am acutely aware
that we continue to derive a great deal of knowledge, inspiration and strength
from those PIAC people who went before us, including the organisation’s first director
and chair, Peter Cashman,’ Mr Santow said.

Professor Cashman’s photo, top right, was taken at PIAC’s 25th anniversary dinner. Celebrations for PIAC’s 30th anniversary will be held over the coming months.

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