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Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Page: 5683

Mr McCLELLAND (Attorney-General) (6:53 PM) —I thank the honourable member for Moreton for his question. I hope one of us at least wins tonight. Pleasingly, departmental representatives are here tonight because I would like to acknowledge their work. It is as a result of their work that the government has been able to invest an additional $154 million over four years into legal assistance programs, legal aid commissions, community legal centres and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal centres. This is the largest injection of funds into the sector in well over a decade. The investment is going to play a key role in ensuring that disadvantaged Australians have the means to resolve disputes early before they escalate and before they become entrenched. I will say a few words shortly about domestic violence, which is a particular concern.

Consistent with the government’s Strategic Framework for Access to Justice in the Federal Civil Justice System, which the government announced in September, the funding will focus on early intervention and reinforce the shift away from expensive and lengthy litigation wherever possible. From 1 July, an additional $92.3 million over four years will be provided for legal aid, $34.9 million over four years will be provided for Indigenous legal services and $26.8 million over four years will be provided for community legal services programs. In fact, this will take the Commonwealth’s total funding for legal assistance services to over $1.2 billion over four years, and we believe the funding injection will make a real difference.

The Rudd government has allocated an additional $92.3 million over four years, as I have mentioned, to legal aid commissions across Australia. This additional funding will mean that legal aid commissions will be able to help disadvantaged and vulnerable Australians, including—in response to the member’s question—women and their children at risk of violence in respect to their legal issues and what is necessary to protect them.

The new funding will underpin the new National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services which is currently being negotiated with the states and territories. The new partnership will include revised guidelines for greater flexibility so that Commonwealth funds can also be used for state family violence and child protection matters where there is an overlapping Commonwealth family law matter. This is be the first time since 1996 that Commonwealth funds will be able to be used and dedicated specifically to domestic violence issues.

Funding will also increase the availability of legal assistance in a range of other areas, including consumer credit and debt and for civil law matters which, if left unresolved, not only impact on individuals but also ultimately lead to ongoing social problems. The government has allocated an additional $34.9 million over four years to Indigenous legal aid services, which will mean that these services will be able to be provided to Indigenous Australians. These services will include duty lawyer services and casework services in a whole range of matters. The services we are providing to Indigenous Australians are not limited to federal matters.

In the area of community legal centres we have allocated an additional $26 million over four years to the Commonwealth Community Legal Services Program. The additional funding will be allocated to over 80 centres. It will focus on areas of Commonwealth priority—among which are legal assistance to support areas of family law, including domestic violence—and ensure that people are able to get early and targeted legal advice and information to avoid litigation.

The Rudd government is committed to ensuring access to justice for all Australians. I am proud of the Rudd government’s record in this respect. The $154 million in additional funding, along with the $70 million that we have injected into legal assistance programs over the last three years, demonstrates our real commitment to making an accessible justice system.