Legal issues and the Attorney-General's portfolio - Access to justice

Budget Review 2009-10 Index

Budget 2009 10: Legal issues and the Attorney-General's portfolio

Access to justice

Moira Coombs

Indigenous Justice and the Northern Territory Emergency Response

The Government has announced major new resources in the area of Indigenous justice of $80.2 million over four years under the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER). This funding will continue the following services:

  • Night patrols
  • Increase the capacity of the Northern Territory Aboriginal Interpreter Service and Aboriginal legal aid services, and the
  • Welfare Rights Outreach project.[1]

In 2008–09 Budget Paper No. 2, the Government in connection with the NTER and the ‘Closing the Gap’ funding initiatives, provided an allocation of $0.8 million to continue Indigenous interpreter services, $2 million for additional legal aid services and $17.7 million for night patrol services. It was stated that ongoing requirements in these areas would be reviewed prior to the 2009–10 Budget and would be based on the evaluation.[2] The evaluation was set up in June 2008 by the Government and a Review Board appointed to conduct an independent and transparent review of the first 12 months of the NTER. Its purpose was to assess its progress in improving the safety and wellbeing of children and to assist residents of remote communities of the Northern Territory to a better future. The report was released in October 2008.[3]

Legal Aid Payments to the States and Territories

Payments made to the States for legal aid are now being made under the new framework for Federal Financial Relations for the payment of specific purpose payments. The new Federal Financial Relations framework is being implemented in stages from 1 January 2009 and combined monthly payments will be made from the Commonwealth Treasury to and through State and Territory Treasuries. It will no longer be the responsibility of the Attorney-General’s Department.[4]

Legal Aid

Prior to the Budget a joint press release was issued by the Attorney-General Robert McClelland and Minister for Home Affairs Bob Debus announcing the provision of one-off funding for legal assistance programs focussing on early intervention and alternative dispute resolution. The following additional one-off funding was provided for the following legal services:

  • $10.1 million for Commonwealth legal aid services;
  • $4 million for Community Legal Centres;
  • $6.2 million for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services.[5]

Press reports considered that the Budget figures for legal aid ‘failed to support access to justice, with no new ongoing funding for legal aid …’.[6] The Law Council of Australia’s president John Corcoran was reported as saying ‘the Government’s lack of support for the legal assistance sector was disappointing, as demand for legal services soared’.[7]

[1].    Australian Government, Portfolio budget statements, 2009–10: Budget related paper no. 1.2: Attorney-General’s Portfolio, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 2009, p.14.

[2].    Australian Government, Budget measures, 2008–09, budget paper no.2, pp. 309, 317–8.

[3].    Northern Territory Emergency Response Review Board, Report, Commonwealth of Australia, 2008, viewed 19 May 2009,

[4].    Australian Government, Portfolio Budget Statements, 2009–10, p. 24.

[5].    R McClelland (Attorney-General) and B Debus (Minister for Home Affairs), Funding for legal assistance services, media release, 9 May 2009, viewed 18 May 2009,;query=Id%3A%22media%2Fpressrel%2FSGIT6%22

[6].    N Berkovic, ‘No extra funds for wanderers in court maze’, The Australian, 15 May, 2009, p. 28.

[7].    N Berkovic, p. 28