Overburdened legal aid centres across the country will be hoping the latest review of government funding arrangements delivers on their promises to ensure all Australians have equal access to the law.
Don’t hold your breath. Funding is never enough, as any legal aid lawyer will tell you.
Federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus last week announced an independent review of the National Legal Assistance Partnership, a funding agreement between all Australian governments to provide the most vulnerable access to legal assistance for civil matters, such as family law disputes and child protection.
State and territory governments fund most criminal law matters.
A decade or more of chronic underfunding by all governments for legal aid services has recently forced Aboriginal legal aid services in NSW and Queensland to suspend services.
The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (NATILS) says demand for legal services has risen 100 per cent since 2018, but federal government core funding has declined in real terms.
An emergency injection of $21 million in federal government funding in May would “do little more than help keep the lights on”, NATILS said.
“We fully expect service freezes to continue and that means bad outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, including unjust incarceration and separated families,” NATILS chair Karly Warner said.
The ACT Government has just delivered a $2 million boost for community legal services in the budget, including for the NSW/ACT Aboriginal Legal Service, which Ms Warner leads. In the ACT, its services continue.
A longer-term boost to national funding for legal aid services is at least another year away.
The current national funding agreement is due to expire in 2025. Since 2020, it will have delivered $2.4 billion in federal