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Budget 97 - legal aid in New South Wales in crisis



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SENATOR THE HON NICK BOLKUS

SHADOW ATTORNEY GENERAL SHADOW MINISTER FOR JUSTICE LABOR SENATOR FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA

MEDIA RELEASE

No.23/97 15 May 1997

BUDGET 97- LEGAL AID IN NEW SOUTH WALES IN CRISIS

"The 1997 legal aid budget shows the continued crisis our national legal aid system is in," Shadow Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, Senator Nick Bolkus, said today.

"Only $68.981 million has been allocated for distribution to the States and Territories, including $16,162 million for community legal centres. This is down from the $134.486 million that was appropriated last year. A further $52.819 million is being held in reserve in case the Commonwealth has to fund its own separate legal aid service in New South Wales, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia."

"As a result, New South Wales is only guaranteed to receive $20.815 million next year - and this includes its share of the funding for community legal centres," Senator Bollms said. "This is at least $10.3 million less than the amount New South Wales was told it would receive in October last year."

"Indeed, on 10 January this year Mr Williams promised the NSW Attorney-General Mr Shaw in writing that, and I quote, 'the allocation to New South Wales would be no less than $31.1 million for 1997/98.' Mr Williams has broken that promise."

"If anything, Mr Shaw is entitled to expect more than $31.1 million because, as Mr Williams went on to say, the 'figure will. . rise slightly with the regular price adjustment'."

"With less than seven weeks to go before the national legal aid system comes crashing down, Mr Williams should tell the State and Territory governments, legal practitioners and the public what is going on. Do we have a national legal aid system or not?"

"The mess he has created with this legal aid budget shows that he can't decide which way to turn. And why? Because he hasn't got the guts to look the hundreds of thousands of ordinary Australians who are suffering as a result of this decision in the eye and tell them that he has got it wrong."

"It is about time Mr Williams stopped playing monopoly with our legal aid money and started doing his job as the first law officer of the land. He should stop defending the indefensible and start defending the right of each and every Australian to access our justice system."

Contact: Simon Banks Ph: (06) 277 3388 (bh) or 0419 63 85 87 (m) Fax: (06) 277 3062

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