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Law Council of Australia

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Court and tribunal funding welcome, but legal assistance services deserve more

14 May 2024

The Law Council welcomes the funding announced in tonight’s Budget for publicly-funded legal assistance services, but believes it is only a fraction of the financial support needed to ensure access to justice for the most vulnerable members of our community.

“The Law Council of Australia appreciates that there are multiple demands on the public purse at a time when many Australians are struggling to keep afloat.

“However, helping people keep their heads above water is precisely what legal assistance services do for hundreds of thousands of people every year. They must be properly funded in order to continue their vital work,” Law Council of Australia President, Mr Greg McIntyre SC said.

“Our legal assistance services are designed to be there for people experiencing disadvantage or crisis and to help them get back on their feet. They help people whether experiencing family violence or elder abuse, challenging an unfair social security decision or discrimination in the workplace, or addressing a consumer law dispute.

“Support from legal aid commissions, community legal centres, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services or National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services can make the difference for someone in terms of being safe, having a roof over their head and not having their financial or employment rights trampled.

“Sadly, and to this nation’s shame, our legal assistance services are severely under-resourced. As a result, they are unable to meet demand and are turning clients away.

“We have consistently called for the Commonwealth to urgently restore its share of legal assistance funding under the National Legal Assistance Partnership and are disappointed it has not done so in full in tonight’s Budget. We have estimated this requires an annual boost in funding of around $500 million.

“However, tonight’s Budget only provides an additional $44.1 million in 2024-25 spread across the sector which includes indexation and some funding to reduce community legal sector pay disparity.

“This is undoubtedly needed, but is far short of what the sector requires to meet the growing demand it faces. We must not wait until next year’s Budget to adequately resource the legal assistance sector to do its vital work.

“While the funding shortfall remains a priority, there also needs to be funding certainty for these organisations. This requires long-term commitments from Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments so that services can plan ahead, recruit and retain staff.”

The Law Council welcomes the specific focus on enhancing the safety of women and children that underpins the announcement of $109.9 million over two years to further enhance the National Criminal Intelligence System.

“This aims to improve information sharing for better law enforcement responses. However, we would have liked to see funding across all arms of the justice system towards the same end. We are disappointed there was not any new dedicated funding for legal assistance services to address domestic and family violence.

“The Law Council welcomes the Government’s provision of $115.6 million over four years to the federal courts system to address significant backlogs of migration and protection matters. This includes an additional eight judges across the federal courts and the establishment of two migration hubs in court facilities.

We also welcome the $206.5 million over four years that will be provided to the Administrative Review Tribunal to respond flexibly to demand.”

Other welcome measures include:

• $26.1 million over four years from 2024–25 for Redress Support Services and $7.2 million in 2024–25 for knowmore legal service to support survivors of institutional sexual abuse through the application process.

• $16.5 million over five years from 2023–24 to continue to provide legal assistance for temporary visa holders leaving a violent relationship.

• $20.2 million over four years to the Federal Court and the National Native Title Tribunal to preserve culturally and historically significant native title records and address the backlog of native title claims and post-determination disputes.

• $10.7 million over four years to continue funding for the Justice Policy Partnership to reduce adult and youth incarceration rates for First Nations people.

• $11.7 million over two years to extend the First Nations Family Dispute Resolution pilot.

• $4.6 million in 2024–25 to extend Commonwealth funding for Custody Notification Services.

The Law Council also notes the following measures:

• $168.0 million over four years from 2024–25 to implement reforms to Australia’s Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing laws.

• $288.1 million over four years from 2024–25 to support the initial delivery of the Digital ID system.

Contact: Kristen Connell, P. 0400 054 227, E. kristen@talkforcemedia.com.au

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