Community Law Australia today expressed concern that the two major parties had not released a plan to address access to justice ahead of the Election, despite receiving a written request from CLA three weeks ago.
To date, only Greens Senator Penny Wright has outlined a plan to address the access to justice crisis. No response has been received from the Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus or Shadow Attorney-General Senator George Brandis.
Community Law Australia spokesperson Carolyn Bond said: “The lack of response is extremely disappointing.”
“We know that they understand the importance of this issue and the desperate need for more funding, but the parties should be prepared to present voters with their plan to address the problem of legal need and improving access to services.
“Both Dreyfus and Brandis have indicated that they regard access to justice as a basic right and that they are aware of the crisis of underfunding for legal assistance services for people who can’t afford to pay a lawyer.
“They have acknowledged in various forums that the legal system is too costly and ordinary people are priced out of access to justice.
“Understanding the problem is one thing, but we would expect that prior to an election, the major parties would be prepared to share their plan to fix it,” Ms Bond said.
“The Attorney-General recently provided a much-needed increase in funding to CLCs and Senator Brandis has indicated a desire to increase the Commonwealth’s contribution to legal aid.
“While we are yet to see the detail it appears that the Coalition plans to cut Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, which is a distressing move for these communities where people already struggle to assert their legal rights.
“There is still huge unmet demand for free legal help among Australians who can’t afford to pay for a private lawyer. Until governments work to address this issue, we will continue to see people priced out of access to justice.
“Access to justice continues to be a major issue for people in regional or remote areas, women struggling with family violence issues, people being ripped off by financial institutions, and people with credit and debt problems.
“63 per cent of community legal centres report unmet demand and 85 per cent were forced to tighten or restrict service levels in order to meet demand for their services.
“Conservative estimates by the Australia Institute suggest that half a million Australians are missing out on the legal help they need each year.
“Unresolved legal problems can often escalate, causing financial, social and health problems. It saves money overall to provide access to legal help for Australians who can’t afford a lawyer. It’s also vital in ensuring that everyone is equal under the law.
“Whoever the next Attorney-General is will need to respond to this crisis, which is having a detrimental impact on many Australians – and the wider community. We hope that the lack of response does not reflect a lack of commitment, as much depends on the capacity to remove barriers to people accessing legal help.