New Federal Agreement Must Increase Legal Assistance Funding and Protect Indigenous Legal Assistance
Friday, 1 November 2019
The Commonwealth and State Governments must use upcoming negotiations to urgently address the crisis in legal assistance funding and preserve separate funding under the Indigenous Legal Assistance Program (ILAP) for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (ATSILS).
In the 2019-20 budget, the Commonwealth Government allocated less than $20 million in additional funding for legal assistance services. It is also proposing that the ILAP and the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services (NPA) be replaced by a single funding mechanism. However, these proposed new arrangements still require the agreement of State and Territory governments.
These negotiations provide an opportunity for governments to ensure:
- the preservation of ILAP as an independent, standalone Commonwealth program;
- certain and predictable funding of legal assistance organisations;
- increased funding for the legal assistance sector; and
- removal of impediments to law reform and advocacy activities by legal assistance organisations.
Law Society President Greg McIntyre SC said, “The additional legal assistance funding set aside by the Commonwealth Government does not come close to addressing the minimum $310 million a year shortfall identified by the Law Council of Australia’s Justice Project. Vulnerable Australians will continue to face significant barriers to justice until more legal assistance funding is allocated.”
The proposed arrangements are contrary to a 2018 government-commissioned independent review, which found that ATSILS provide cost-effective, high-quality, culturally appropriate and accessible services and that a standalone ILAP must be maintained.
The Commonwealth Government’s plan undercuts the key reason the ILAP was established – to recognise that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples need access to specialised, culturally competent legal services they know and trust.
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About us: The Law Society of Western Australia is the peak professional association for lawyers in the State. The Society is a not-for-profit association dedicated to the representation of its more than 4,000 members. The Society enhances the legal profession through its position as a respected leader and contributor on law reform, access to justice and the rule of law. The Society is widely acknowledged by the legal profession, government and the community as the voice of the legal profession in Western Australia.