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Citizens Advice Bureau Celebrates 50 Years In Aotearoa New Zealand

(Left to right; Auckland Mayor Phil Goff, life member Maureen Meyer and Peter Harwood who was responsible for setting up the first CAB in Ponsonby, Chief Justice Helen Winkelmann and, Chief Executive Citizens Advice Bureau New Zealand, Kerry Dalton)

Citizens Advice Bureau | Ngā Pou Whakawhirinaki o Aotearoa is celebrating 50 years of supporting and empowering people and communities in New Zealand.

Auckland CABs kicked off the celebrations by holding an event at the Mt Eden War Memorial Hall on November 21, hosting an array of long service volunteers, life members and special guests including Auckland Mayor, Phil Goff and the Right Honourable Dame Helen Winkelmann, Chief Justice.

“It really is the most extraordinary accomplishment, 50 years of service to your community, and I pay tribute to all of the volunteers”, says Chief Justice Winkelmann. The Chief Justice spoke about the important role the CAB plays in communities and in particular the role of the CAB in improving access to justice. “. CAB helps people engage with public institutions, it helps them to access legal entitlements, end or begin relationships that have legal implications, really every aspect of it bears upon the legal context of people’s lives.”

The Chief Justice acknowledged the extensive work of the Citizens Advice Bureau and gave particular mention to the work of the CAB during the Covid-19 pandemic. “During the Covid-19 lockdown, CAB was, to use the language of this year, an essential service. When the disruption and dislocation of the first lockdown hit, the CAB was there to help people access the services they needed and to provide advice as to their rights in relation to housing, employment and immigration issues. Without the help the CAB provides, many would struggle to stay connected to other support systems.”

Chief Justice Winkelmann then recalled her memories as a young law student in the 1980s gaining valuable experience at her local Citizens Advice Bureau in Auckland and recognised the CAB’s role in addressing the justice gap in New Zealand society.

The CAB has been an essential part of New Zealand’s social infrastructure since the opening of the first bureau in Ponsonby, Auckland in 1970. Through the CAB’s free, confidential, and independent service, of New Zealanders have been helped to understand and act on their rights and responsibilities and to take action to solve their problems. This has only been possible because of the commitment and dedication of thousands of volunteers over the past five decades.

Over 200 guests gathered at the historic hall and shared stories of their journey through the decades while some new volunteers and members compared their experiences with accomplished veterans. Mayor Goff mingled with guests on the day and spoke about the positive contribution of CAB volunteers to the community.

“I would particularly like to acknowledge the volunteers because you are the heart and soul of the CAB, you do your work selflessly and you do magnificent service. This has been the year of Covid-19 and it has been a shocker of a year, but we are lucky enough to be gathered here together to mark this special day. We worked alongside the CAB to ring 15,000 elderly people around the Auckland region, which was a fantastic thing to have a bit of kindness, compassion and care around us,” says Phil Goff, Auckland Mayor.

The fact that the CAB has a unique role in supporting community wellbeing – through a service that is free, confidential, and universal – was highlighted in a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers report. Mayor Goff cited the 2019 PwC review of the CAB service, which found that the CABs empowered people to solve problems, help them understand their rights and enhances their personal and community wellbeing.

“The CAB was set up the right way from the start and we have been able to respond to the changing world around us, says Kerry Dalton, CABNZ Chief Executive. This organisation has had tens of thousands of volunteers over the years and the CAB plays a really important role in democracy”, says Ms Dalton.

A large cake was later cut by life member and long service volunteer, Maureen Meyer along with Peter Harwood, the founder of the first CAB in New Zealand in 1970. Long service volunteers gathered together to mark the special occasion and reminisced of times that saw the launch of computers in CABs around the country in the 1990s to the support offered by CABs over the Covid-19 period.

Peter Harwood recalled the earlier days of the CAB setting up the first CAB in Ponsonby in 1970, followed by branches in Glen Inness, Queens Street and Avondale shortly after. Harwood reflected on his time at the Auckland City Council where he worked as a social worker and was President of the New Zealand Association of Social Workers.

Chief Justice Winkelmann noted that access to justice means that individuals have the knowledge they need to understand what their rights and obligations are. Winkelmann called Peter Harwood a visionary and a social influencer when the first CAB was set up 50 years ago, which set a platform for early access to justice for all. Justice Winkelmann said that the CAB was a powerful social network that is a force for good.

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