Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has delivered the 2021-22 federal budget. Here’s what lawyers and law firms across the country need to know.
On Tuesday morning, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said that while the Australian economy is recovering well from the age of coronavirus, and has outperformed “all major advanced economies around the world”, the nation is not yet out of the woods.
“There is still more to do. We must secure Australia’s economic recovery,” he proclaimed.
He promised that the budget, delivered last night, would lay out the Morrison government’s plans to secure Australia’s recovery from the pandemic: “Australia’s strong position today is not the result of luck. Australia makes its own luck.”
Attorney-General Michaelia Cash added, post-budget speech, that the government is committed to supporting Australians navigating the legal system, and that it is proud to announce “a package of considered and important measures, which will support people to resolve issues as efficiently as possible”.
Here is what was announced for the legal sector, together with measures that may impact the legal sector.
Family law system
Mr Frydenberg announced that the Morrison government is providing $416.2 million over the next four years to support women and families experiencing family and domestic violence through a number of measures to increase information sharing and support in the family law system.
“All Australians have the right to be safe. The reality is, for too many women, this is not the experience,” he said in his speech to the House of Representatives.
“One in four women experience violence from a current or former partner. This must stop. We must do more to end all forms of violence against women and children. We will improve the family law system to better protect children, give victims of domestic violence greater access to justice and reduce time spent in court.”
New initiatives announced include:
- $85 million over three years from 2022-23 in additional funding for enhanced social supports under the Family Advocacy and Support Services and for 26 new locations, including in regional areas.
- $101.4 million over four years from 2021-22 to increase access to Children’s Contact Services for families across Australia who are unable to safely manage arrangements themselves for the contact and changeover of their children.
- $60.8 million over four years from 2021-22 to enable the family courts to implement a new approach to family law case management.
- $29 million for a new initiative called the National Strategic Framework for Information Sharing between the family law and family violence and child protection systems.
- $129 million over four years from 2021-22 for increased legal assistance funding to help women access justice.
- $4.7 million over two years to strengthen criminal justice responses to sexual assault, sexual harassment and coercive control.
- $6.3 million in additional funding in 2021-22 to facilitate increased justice for victims of sexual assault.
Separately, Ms Cash noted, the 2021-22 budget also provides for a $101.4 million investment in Children’s Contact Services (CCSs) to reduce safety risks to family law system users.
Moreover, as part of the Women’s Economic Security Package, the budget has allocated $10.7 million in additional funding to extend two well-received family law property pilots for a further 18 months to 30 June 2023.
“The complementary Small Claims Property Pilot and the Legal Aid Commission Trial assist separating couples with small property pools to achieve affordable, timely property settlements,” Ms Cash said in a statement.
Workplace sexual harassment
Mr Frydenberg told the House of Representatives that sexual harassment is “unacceptable in any context”.
“When it occurs in the workplace, it denies women their dignity, as well as their personal and economic security. The Government, in its response to the [email protected] report, is strengthening laws, guidance and standards to prevent and address harassment,” he said.
As part of this commitment, the government announced the following:
- An additional $9.3 million over four years to support the [email protected] Council secretariat.
- $5.3 million over three years to build evidence and further develop primary prevention initiatives, with funding being directed to Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) to deliver research projects into sexual harassment.
- $6 million to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) to bolster its efforts in preventing workplace sexual harassment, and amendments to the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 to require public sector organisations to report to WGEA on gender equality initiatives.
- $200,000 to working women’s centres to support the continued delivery of free information, advocacy, support and advice on work-related matters including workplace sexual harassment.
“Funding is being provided to the Attorney General’s Department to support the Council to implement a range of practical measure, as well as drive amendments to the legislative and regulatory framework, designed to improve legal and regulatory responses to workplace sexual harassment,” the budget papers noted.
The government is increasing funding, the papers continued, to provide legal assistance to workers who experience, or are at risk of, sexual harassment.
“This funding will allow for specialist lawyers with workplace and discrimination law expertise to deliver these services to help vulnerable workers to address their legal issues and empower them to take action if required. This funding will be subject to ongoing discussions with states and territories in the context of their responses to the [email protected] Report, which are due by the end of 2021,” the budget papers noted.
The government is introducing a new Global Talent visa and Temporary Activity visa and is set to modernise the framework for individual tax residency. These measures are being implemented, it said, to encourage highly skilled individuals to relocate to Australia.
“Australia is an attractive place to do business: our way of life, our safe, clean cities and our proximity to Asia. The Government’s handling of the COVID‑19 pandemic helped make us the envy of the world,” the budget papers argued.
“Our strong economic position means we are well placed to attract business to Australia to create more Australian jobs.”
Tech investments for small businesses
The government is investing in emerging technologies, including AI, it said, so as to build a “digitally enabled Australian workforce and small business community”.
To this end, it has pledged the following:
- $100 million in initiatives to build the digital skills of Australians to meet the needs of the modern Australian workplace.
- $124.1 million for the nation’s research and industry capability in AI, including a National Artificial Intelligence Centre led by CSIRO’s Data61.
- $12.7 million expansion of the Digital Solutions – Australian Small Business Advisory Service so that small businesses are encouraged to adopt tech platforms.
- $15.3 million to drive business uptake of e-invoicing.
Lawyers who are interested in becoming sole practitioners have been given a boost.
Reforms and additional funding of $129.8 million were announced for the New Business Assistance with New Enterprise Incentive Scheme (NEIS), Exploring Being My Own Boss Workshops and Entrepreneurship Facilitators, which the budget papers said “will make self-employment support more flexible and easier for job seekers and existing micro-business owners to access”.
“A broader range of services will be offered, including small business workshops, formal business training, and other business support like idea generation, planning, and business health checks,” the budget papers said
Financial literacy and legal support services
Investments are also set to be made in supporting legal services so that women are better placed to get on the property ladder.
“After separation or divorce, women experience far more significant drops in household disposable income than men. Divorce, in some circumstances, leads to court proceedings adding a heavy burden on people who are already emotionally and financially stressed. It is a time-consuming process and for many women it is too costly and is resolved too late to support them when they need it most,” the budget papers noted.
Therefore, in order to support women’s economic security, the Morrison government has pledged $10.7 million over two years to streamline the process and provide lawyers to assist with mediation to distribute property of less than $500,000 between parties and after separation following a relationship breakdown.
“The proposal will help women achieve financial security and control, recover financially from separation, and move on with their lives,” the papers proclaimed.
Other funding initiatives
Elsewhere, the 2021-22 federal budget provides the following initiatives pertaining to the provision of legal services:
- $60 million to provide dedicated legal assistance services for people with mental health issues.
- $24.1 million for the Attorney-General’s Department and Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions to manage increased prosecutions related to child sexual abuse.
- $17.1 million allocated for the enhancement of domestic violence units and health justice partnerships, to provide additional, mental health-specific funding for these services to respond to the growing needs of women who have experienced family and domestic violence.
Ms Cash noted that the government had already pledged $12.6 million for additional court and judicial resources for the South Australia family law registry and $14.3 million for additional legal assistance in family law matters for South Australia, and that $145.3 million over two years is being directed to the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicides.