The Rudd Government will invest an additional $154 million over four years in legal assistance programs, providing the biggest boost the sector has seen in years. However, according to the Law Council of Australia legal aid funding is still inadequate.
Provided from 1 July 2010, the additional funding will include $92.3 million over four years for legal aid; $34.9 million over four years for Indigenous legal services; and $26.8 million over four years for community legal service programs and will take the Commonwealth's total funding for legal assistance services to over $1.2 billion over four years.
"This is the largest and most significant injection of new funding into the legal assistance sector for well over a decade," said the Attorney-General Robert McClelland.
The Law Council of Australia has welcomed the much needed injection into the chronically underfunded legal assistance sector but says the allocation of $92.3 million to legal aid still falls short of the required budget.
"All Australians have a fundamental right to access legal advice and services, regardless of their means and the Law Council and its constituent bodies have been calling on Federal Governments to address the underfunding of the legal assistance sector for well over a decade so we are pleased with this outcome," Ferguson said in a statement.
"This is the most significant amount of funding the sector has received in over 10 years and this substantial increase in recurrent expenditure will go some way to ensuring the provision of better access to justice for the economically and socially disadvantaged members of our community," he said.
"Notwithstanding the significant injection of funds received in this Budget, the legal assistance sector will still be grossly underfunded and suffering the effects of many years of neglect from the previous Government.
"[The allocation of $92.3 million] amounts to $23 million per annum and is significantly short of the $43 million the Law Council indicated was required for legal aid this year alone to being to provide better access to justice," Ferguson said.
The 2010 Budget boost to the legal services sector is aimed at increasing the availability of legal aid for separating families as well as improving the availability of legally-assisted mediation; helping people with consumer credit and debt related legal issues; meeting the rising demand for Indigenous legal aid services; and strengthening the capacity of community legal services to help victims of domestic violence and those at risk of homelessness.
"Consistent with the Government's Strategic Framework for Access to Justice, the funding will focus on 'early intervention' and will reinforce a shift away from expensive adversarial court litigation," said the Attorney-General.