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National Legal Aid directors condemn proposed cuts to legal aid



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9 July 1996

N A TIO N A L LE G A L AID D IRECTORS CONDEM N PR O PO SE D CUTS TO LEGAL AID

The Directors of the Legal Aid Commissions of Australia refer to a letter sent by the Commonwealth Attorney-General, the Hon. Daryl Williams, AM QC MP to the State and Territory Attorneys-General on 26 June 1996. In this letter, the Federal Attorney gave 12 months’ notice that legal aid agreements regarding Commonwealth funding would be withdrawn and renegotiated. This letter must be taken to mean a reduction

of resources to the legal aid programme. The Legal Aid Commissions estimate this reduction to be approximately 20%.

The effect of the cuts will be to alter dramatically the character of social justice in Australia. The areas of law that the Commonwealth is suggesting that it will desert include the following: Domestic Violence

Protection of children (care matters) Housing and consumer law Personal injuries remedies (including victims of crime compensation) Criminal law and civil liberties

This will have a profound impact on the lives of many Australians, including: Women Children Victims of crime Tenants Residents of retirement villages

Consumers Home owners at risk of losing their homes People suffering discrimination and breaches of civil liberties

It is estimated that this will directly affect the human rights of around 25,000 Australians next year and will certainly paint a poor picture of Australia as an international citizen.

In its recent report entitled “Meeting Tomorrow’s Needs on Yesterday’s Budget”, National Legal Aid has shown that the demand for legal aid has increased significantly over the last five years and income in significant areas has substantially dropped. There has been a shortfall in funding at the Commonwealth Government level over the last five years of AT LEAST $64.9million. The proposed cuts to funding will only exacerbate an already perilous situation for many thousands of Australians seeking to enforce or defend their legal rights.