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The Howard government's shrinking commitment to legal aid.



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The Howard Government's Shrinking Commitment To Legal Aid Robert McClelland - Shadow Attorney-General

Media Statement - 9 May 2000

The 2000 Federal Budget will bring little joy to Australians who are unable to afford the cost of legal services.

While the Government previously announced in December 1999 that it would provide an additional $63 million over four years to State and Territory Legal Aid Commissions, the budget confirms that the real increase is only $45.6 million, once the effects of indexation are taken into account.

What's more, of that $45.6 million, as much as $9 million has been allocated to provide funding only for expensive criminal cases.

These increases in legal aid funding are too little and too late compared to the massive decimation of legal aid since the Howard Government took office in 1996.

The following table shows the Commonwealth level of commitment to legal aid since the 1995-96 Budget, the last delivered by a Labor Government.

Year Budget

1995-1996 $160.2m (last Labor budget)

1996-1997 $159.2m (first Coalition budget)

1997-1998 $127.1m

1998-1999 $133.6m

1999-2000 $103m

2000-2001 $108.748m

2001-2002 $114.659m

2002-2003 $120.570m

2003-2004 $126.481m

Forward estimates until the conclusion of the 2003-2004 financial year reveal that the Coalition will spend $288 million less on legal aid over the 8 years it has budgeted for, even without taking inflation into account.

The Government's disregard for Australians seeking access to justice is also evident in a number of other areas, including its earlier savage cuts to the resources of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, the Australian Law Reform Commission and cuts of $5 million to the resources of the Family Court announced in this Budget.

The announced savings of $9 million a year from the abolition of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, the Social Security Appeals Tribunal, the Migration Review Tribunal and the Refugee Review Tribunal, which the government proposes to amalgamate into the Administrative Review Tribunal, raises a serious question as to whether Australians will retain their existing rights to challenge unreasonable and unlawful government action.

When it comes to access to justice, Australians are much worse off under the Howard government, and this Budget does squat all to improve the situation.

Authorised by Geoff Walsh, 19 National Circuit, Barton ACT 2600.