This year’s Budget items are broadly consistent with historical pattern of legal aid expenditure, taking into account the temporary additional funding provided since the 2011–2012 Budget to provide legal aid for ‘people smuggling, national security and drug-related cases’.
The Government provides funding to the states and territories for the delivery of Commonwealth legal aid services by state and territory legal aid commissions for disadvantaged Australians through the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services (National Partnership).
In 2013–14 the Government will provide $200.6 million dollars under the National Partnership, an increase of $2.5 million from last year (2012–2013). The forward estimates indicate that each year funding under the Agreement will increase, resulting in a total increase of $11.4 million between 2013–14 and 2016–17.
Legal aid commissions will also directly receive $25.8 million in 2012–13 under the Attorney-General’s Department Program 1.3: Justice Services, representing a significant increase of $11.3 million compared to last year’s revised budget figures. The amount is estimated to reduce to around $18.8 million in 2014–15, $3.8 million in 2015–2016 and $3.9 million in 2016–17.
This is a return (in 2015–2016 and 2016–2017) to the levels of funding forecast under the Justice Services program in the 2010–11 Budget, prior to being revised in the 2011–12 Budget to include ‘additional funding for legal aid for people smuggling, national security and drug-related cases’.
The Budget papers do not explain the basis on which expenditure on legal aid commissions under the Justice Services program is expected to decrease. However, the increase in the Budget reflects the Government’s commitment to ‘to improve Australians' access to justice’.
Funding for community legal services decreased slightly whilst funding for Indigenous legal aid increased. The Attorney-General's Department Program 1.3: Justice Services administers $39.4 million for the provision of community legal services across Australia (down from $39.9 million in 2012–13). Under the Attorney-General's Department Program 1.5: Indigenous Law and Justice, Commonwealth funding for Indigenous legal aid and policy reform has increased to $73.8 million (up 5.6 million from $68.2 million in 2012–2013).
The Government announced two additional spending measures. The first is an additional $10.3 million in funding over four years for community legal centres. The second is an additional $42.0 million in funding over two years for legal assistance. However, it is not clear if the additional funding is included in the budget amounts listed for community legal centres ($39.4 million in 2013‑14), indigenous legal aid and policy reform ($73.8 million in 2013–2014) or legal assistance services ($200.6 million in 2013–2014).
The Law Council of Australia (LCA) and Law Institute of Victoria (LIV) have both expressed disappointment with the 2013–14 Budget. The LIV has called for a Legal Aid Summit to discuss funding, while the LCA will lobby for increased funding as the amount allocated is, in its view ‘$61.2 million short of what is required for the Commonwealth to return to a 50 per cent share of funding with the states and territories’ ... Up to 1997, the Commonwealth contribution to Legal Aid Commission funding was 55 per cent—current funding in 2013 stands at 35 per cent.’
The Government has also continued funding (at the level previously announced in the 2011–2012 Budget) the National Broadband Network (NBN) Regional Legal Assistance Program, which provides grants to increase legal assistance delivery to remote areas.
. See: Research Branch, Budget review 2013–14, backgrounders, legal aid, Research paper, 3, 2012–13, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, May 2013; Australian Government, Portfolio budget statements 2011–12: budget related paper no. 1.2: Attorney-General's Portfolio, pp. 30–31, viewed 15 May 2013; Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, Attorney-General’s portfolio, Additional Estimates, 22 February 2011, pp. 74–82, accessed 15 May 2013.
. A Albanese (Minister for Regional Development and Local Government) and C King (Minister for Regional Services, Local Communities and Territories), Regional Australia: strengthening communities, ministerial budget statement, 2013, accessed 15 May 2013, p. 24.
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