A modest one-off boost in Federal funding to provide legal help for separating families has been welcomed by the Community Law Australia campaign. However, a significant shortfall remains and a system-wide plan to properly fund legal assistance throughout Australia should be the aim of the forthcoming Federal Budget, the current national review of legal assistance services, and party platforms heading into the 2013 Federal election.
“Community legal centres (CLCs) remain significantly under-funded at Federal and State levels, so we welcome even modest, one-off increases such as that announced by Federal Attorney-General Nicola Roxon. Prioritising this spending on family law services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients is highly appropriate and much needed,” said Community Law Australia Chair, Michael Smith, today.
“However, these grants must be considered as down-payments on the much bigger investment needed to make a real difference to ordinary Australians burdened with legal problems for which they are too often ineligible for financial assistance, and for which they cannot afford a private lawyer.
“A recent report on legal expenditure shows that, at $722m last financial year, the Federal Government spends more than twice as much on its own lawyers as it does on legal help for Australians struggling for the legal help and access to justice that should be available to everyone, not just those who can afford it,” Mr Smith said.
He said the early announcement of the Federal election date offered a rare opportunity to highlight the need for a comprehensive plan to place legal assistance on a sustainable footing. The priority must be to look at the abundant data on increasing legal need to establish a realistic picture of the funding really needed to ensure access to justice.
“Community Law Australia wants to see all political parties take a hard look at what’s happening with legal assistance funding in Australia, and offer detailed, costed approaches to improving legal help. The test isn’t which party is offering more, but which party is offering the investment necessary to do the job,” he said.
The review is set for completion by 30 June 2013, after the Federal Budget is announced, but Mr Smith said the evidence of under-funding is already clear and the Federal Budget should reflect a substantial funding boost in advance of the 14 September election.
0421 437 883
Community Law Australia
|For media information:
0488 773 535