THE GOVERNMENT should commit itself to ongoing funding of the National Pro Bono Resource Centre past 2006 and forgo plans to provide only seed funding and leave the rest up to the private sector, according to a Senate committee report tabled in Parliament last week.
A June 1998 report by the Senate Legal and Constitutional References Committee followed the introduction of the Commonwealth “purchaser/provider” funding agreements in 1997.
Inquiry into the Australian Legal Aid System: Third Report noted the Government appeared to believe that more of the legal aid workload could be shifted to the private law firms. It warned of the limited capacity of the private profession to take more responsibility in this area.
The National Pro Bono Resource Centre, established in 2002, will be partly funded by the Commonwealth over four years. However, the Centre should not be forced to rely solely on private contributions after 2006, last week’s report by the Senate Legal and Constitutional References Committee suggested.
John Corker, the Centre’s full-time director, said he was happy about the report’s suggestions. He stressed, however, that these were only the Committee’s recommendations and that they must be balanced by Committee’s minority report. This came from government representatives on the Committee, Corker said, “who are not so forthcoming”.
The Government line in 2002 was that seed funding would get the Centre up and running, but thereafter the Government expected the funding to be taken on by the private sector, Corker explained
Recent comments by the Government do not represent a closed door, Corker said. “We made a submission in the Civil Justice Review pointing out some of the difficulties in getting private funding.” In the submission, the Centre suggested the Government consider extending the existing funding at least for the next two years, he said.
“We will make a detailed submission to the Government in September this year as well,” Corker said. But if the Centre is unable to get into the Government’s funding cycle next year, it is unlikely it will be able to continue beyond June 2005, he suggested. Firms should be aware of this possibility, he said.
In order to be placed on the Government’s next funding cycle, the Centre needed to prove its worth, and Corker said he felt the Centre would be able to do this.
The Centre had received some “great contributions” from firms, Corker said. And “we have a really good relationship with the University of NSW, who provide us with accommodation and other things”, he said.
The report made some good recommendations, Corker said. “We are heartened, but it comes down to whether the Government will adopt them.”
See related story, ‘Senate inquiry slams legal aid plans’