THE FEDERAL Attorney-General has rebuffed Labor Party records about how much legal aid funding the government has provided year by year since 2002, claiming the figures are only part of the total funding.
Responding last week to Labor Party MP John Murphy’s questions from December in the House of Representatives, A-G Philip Ruddock said the Australian Government had funded Commonwealth legal aid services through two appropriations in each year since 2002.
He added that figures quoted by the Labor MP were only a fraction of the total funding provided by the Government for these services.
In December last year, Murphy asked the Attorney-General in writing to confirm that Commonwealth funding for legal aid was, in 2005-06 dollar terms, $78.90m in 2002-03; $79.90m in 2003-04; $41.43m in 2004-05; and $38.78m in 2005-06.
Murphy also asked the Attorney-General whether there had been a decline in Commonwealth legal aid funding of 51.5 per cent in dollar terms since the 2003-04 Budget period.
Contrary to the MP’s suggestions, Ruddock said there had been no decline in total Commonwealth funding for legal aid over the period in question.
“To the contrary, payments for legal aid services through legal aid commissions increased by 16.01 per cent between 2003-04 and 2005-06,” Ruddock said.
Ruddock explained the apparently reduced funding figures by reference to the transfer for funding to the Legal Aid Commission.
“The reduction between 2003-04 and 2004-05 in the amount allocated in Appropriation Act (No 2) reflects the transfer of funding for legal aid services through the Legal Aid Commission of NSW to Appropriation Act (No 1).
“Payments for the provision of legal aid services through legal aid commissions are made directly to legal aid commissions in three jurisdictions under Appropriation Act (No 1) and to States and Territories for five other jurisdictions under Appropriation Act (No 2). Payments from both appropriations were: $128.02m in 2003-04; $144.67m in 2004-05; and $148.52m in 2005-06,” Ruddock said in Hansard records.
Ruddock took the opportunity in Parliament to mention additional funding provided by the Government for other forms of legal assistance. He said this was issued via payments for legal aid to Indigenous Australians, payments to community legal services, to Indigenous family violence prevention legal services and to various schemes of financial assistance.
Funding for these payments and for legal aid services through legal aid commissions totalled $212.06m in 2003-04; and $236.08m in 2005-06, an increase of 11.33 per cent overall, Ruddock said.