Legal Aid Funding Restored
26 March 2015 at 3:04 pm
The Federal Government has reinstated national legal aid assistance, guaranteeing current funding levels for the next two years.
The funding reversal comes after strong lobbying from the Not for Profit and legal sectors warning of the long term implications of cuts to legal aid. Earlier this week the Aboriginal Legal Service resorted to a national online petition via Charge.org to try to stop the Federal Government’s $13.3 million in cuts to Indigenous legal services proposed for July.
The Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) said the cuts to Aboriginal legal services would mean more Aboriginal people will go to jail, and potentially, there would be more deaths in custody.
The Attorney General Senator George Brandis said the changes due to take effect on 1 July 2015 will not proceed.
“This means that the Federal Government will contribute over $1.327 billion to the legal assistance sector from 2013-14 to 2016-17,” Senator Brandis said.
“Today’s restoration of $25.5 million over two years to 30 June 2017, of funding for Legal Aid Commissions, Community Legal Centres and Indigenous legal service providers, builds on our significant commitment to address domestic violence, both in terms of front line services as well as policies that will lead to long term cultural change.
“This decision will restore funding of $11.5 million for Indigenous legal assistance over two years.
“Over the past 18 months, a national conversation about domestic and family violence has grown with increasing momentum. This is an important dialogue that this Government is determined to lead. The Government has listened and is acting in the interests of the most vulnerable in our community including Indigenous Australians.”
Senator Brandis said that since the 2013 election, the Government had examined legal assistance funding to ensure that funding is directed to front line services where the need is greatest – such as services providing help to those affected by domestic and family violence.
“After considerable consultation with State and Territory Governments and service providers, it has been decided there will be no reduction in Commonwealth funding to Legal Aid Commissions, Community Legal Centres (except Environmental Defenders Offices) and Indigenous legal assistance for the next two years,” he said.
He said the Government will honour the funding until the date on which it would have ended – 30 June 2017.
“This announcement provides certainty to the sector while the process of negotiating a new funding agreement continues. The new funding agreement is due to commence on 1 July 2015.”
The Public Interest Advocacy Centre said the decision would allow community legal centres, like PIAC, to continue to focus on helping the most disadvantaged people in Australia.
“Funding from the Australian Government helps PIAC run the Homeless Persons’ Legal Service, which provides free legal assistance to people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness,” PIAC’s CEO, Edward Santow, said.
“In tough economic times like now, demand for our service is only increasing. We are grateful that the Attorney-General recognises the importance of our work helping disadvantaged people.”