As the election campaign heats up, legal bodies have launched a national campaign to push the government for increases in legal aid funding.
During next week’s Law Week events, lawyers will hold rallies in every capital city around Australia to draw attention to the funding shortfall in the legal aid sector.
The coalition government yesterday announced a $30 million package for legal assistance services as part of its National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children.
Its recent budget also included an allocation of $257.1 million for the legal aid system for the year 2016-17, which is predicted to drop to $248.7 million in 2017-18.
The Opposition, meanwhile, has pledged to reverse the Community Legal Centre cuts introduced in the 2014 budget if it is elected.
Nonetheless, Law Council of Australia president Stuart Clark warned the sector remained dangerously underfunded.
“Unfortunately, decades of cuts to legal aid from both parties has effectively crippled this vital justice safety net,” he said.
“The system is now at a point where most Australians who can’t afford a lawyer simply won’t get one.”
Pointing to a recent Productivity Commission report calling for a $200 million injection into the sector, he suggested legal aid funding could save money over the long term.
“Increasing numbers of unrepresented people have filled the court system, creating enormous inefficiencies,” he said.
“Meanwhile, the downstream impact of unmet legal need on health, unemployment and community services has inestimable social and economic costs, which could be avoided,” he added.
“The Productivity Commission and other independent economic analysts have found that investing in legal aid would deliver significant net savings to taxpayers.”
The Tasmanian Law Society has also thrown its support behind the national campaign.
“The Law Society of Tasmania remains concerned at the underfunding of Legal Aid in Tasmania,” president Matthew Verney said.
“It is, and will continue to, result in diminished access to justice for those Tasmanians who need representation but cannot pay for a private lawyer.”
Events will be held across the country, with details available on the Law Council of Australia website.