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What’s in Labor’s budget for lawyers?

Treasurer Jim Chalmers has handed down the first federal budget for the Albanese Labor government — the ALP’s first budget in nearly a decade. Here are the key takeaways for Australia’s legal profession.

user iconLauren Croft and Jerome Doraisamy 26 October 2022 Politics
What’s in Labor’s budget for lawyers?
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What was promised, pre-budget

Treasurer Jim Chalmers floated a “family-friendly” over the weekend, while doing his final pre-budget media rounds, recognising both the pressures that global events have inflicted on the economy, and kitchen table issues.

“It will be a responsible budget,” he told ABC.


“It will be solid, sensible, and suited to the times, because when you’ve got all of this uncertainty around the world, the best possible response is a responsible budget at home, and that’s what this will be,” the Treasurer continued.

The primary influence on the budget is inflation, Mr Chalmers reiterated, after labelling this year’s substantial lift in prices “public enemy number one”.

As such, the budget’s two key missions will be getting wages moving again and keeping inflation moderate over time. “You do that by making sure your cost-of-living relief is responsible and that your investments in the economy don’t push up inflation. And those are key elements of our strategy,” the Treasurer said.

What was said on budget night

In the first budget since the Albanese government was elected in the 2022 federal election, delivered last night (25 October) to the House of Representatives, Treasurer Jim Chalmers said the second budget for the year is a responsible one, that is “right for the times and readies us for the future”.

“Australians know this is a time of great challenge and change,” he proclaimed in his speech to the House of Representatives.

“The global economy teeters again, on the edge — with a war that isn’t ending, a global energy crisis that is escalating, inflationary pressures persisting, and economies slowing — some of them already in reverse.”

“All of this is now reflected in the updated forecasts for global growth — downgraded since the March budget for this year, next year, and the following year,” the Treasurer said.

Ultimately, Treasurer Chalmers said, the budget “does more than end a wasted decade”.

It was, he argued, “a decade marked by energy chaos, a crisis in aged care, skills shortages and stagnant wages, and not enough to show for a trillion dollars in debt. [The budget] does more than draw a line under the drift, decline and decay that defined it. It begins to put things right. It begins to build a better future, that befits our people and the sacrifices they make for each other.”

“A future we can all have a stake in, all sharing in its success. A stronger, more resilient Australia. With more opportunities for more people, in more parts of our amazing country,” he said.

Small-business incentives

In response to rising energy costs for small businesses, the government has committed $62.6 million to support SME businesses by improving their energy efficiency and reducing energy use. According to Treasurer Chalmers, these grants will empower smaller businesses to invest in cost-saving, energy-efficient upgrades that will put downward pressure on power bills and help save money. 

The $15.1 million funding will also be used to extend the tailored small-business mental health and financial counselling programs, NewAccess for Small Business Owners and the Small Business Debt Helpline. This funding will be provided over two calendar years, from 1 January 2023 to 31 December 2024.

This is in contrast to the training and technology uptake incentives small businesses were promised in Treasurer Frydenberg’s budget earlier this year — which provided tax reliefs for small businesses that spent funds on training their employees, and on digital technologies.  

According to a statement from Minister for Small Business Julie Collins, the government pledged $10.9 million in support for the NewAccess for Small Business Owners Program as part of the overall funding. 

“The Small Business Debt Helpline is a dedicated small-business financial counselling service delivered by Financial Counselling Australia. It provides free, independent, confidential and impartial phone-based support to small-business owners nationally, regardless of the cause of their financial hardship,” she said in a statement. 

Additional resourcing for A-G’s portfolio

The Albanese government has pledged almost $60 million over four years for various offices and institutions falling under the A-G’s Department, including $31.8 million for the Australian Human Rights Commission, $22.7 million for the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (to help it digitally manage evidence), and $5.5 million for the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner to investigate and respond to the Optus data breach.

The government will also establish a taskforce within the Attorney-General’s Department to scope options to establish a federal judicial commission, the budget papers said, with costs to be met from within the existing resourcing of that department.

Funding for royal commissions

The Royal Commission into the Robodebt Scheme is set to be provided with $30 million, while an additional $15.5 million will be allotted in 2023–24 for the extension of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide.

For the latter inquiry, the budget papers noted, the government will also continue to support eligible witnesses to participate in the royal commission through extending legal advisory services and financial assistance arrangements. Commonwealth representation before the royal commission will also be funded, the budget noted, with costs to be met from within the existing resourcing of the A-G’s Department.

Anti-Corruption Commission and related offices

As reported last month, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus KC are committing $262 million over four years for the establishment and ongoing operation of the National Anti-Corruption Commission.

Related to the establishment of this commission are the following funding promises:

  • $27.5 million for the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI) (which will be subsumed by the National Anti-Corruption Commission) to develop a secure and independent ICT environment, build new facilities and increase staff numbers and levels of security clearance in preparation for transition to the commission;
  • $7.6 million over four years from 2022–23 (and $0.7 million per year ongoing) to assist with the establishment of the commission and transition from ACLEI;
  • $1.9 million over three years from 2023–24 (and $0.6 million per year ongoing) for an Inspector of the Commission and support staff, to deal with corruption issues relating to the commission and complaints about the commission;
  • $1.6 million over two years from 2024–25 (and $1 million per year ongoing) for the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to handle an increased volume of complex briefs of evidence that will flow from commission investigations;
  • $600,000 over three years from 2023–24 (and $200,000 per year ongoing) for the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman to undertake mandatory inspections of the commission’s use of certain covert powers; and
  • $500,000 over three years from 2023–24 (and $200,000 per year ongoing) for the Office of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security to receive and consider referrals of corruption issues relating to intelligence agencies.
CLCs in flood and bushfire-affected areas

$12 million over four years will be provided to community legal centres in NSW and Queensland, for the purposes of aiding fire and flood-affected Australians in accessing timely legal assistance.

First Nations justice

The Albanese government has promised $99 million over four years from 2022–23 to support improved justice outcomes for First Nations peoples, including:

  • $81.5 million for justice reinvestment initiatives to be delivered in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities;
  • $13.5 million over three years from 2022–23 for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services to ensure First Nations families can access culturally appropriate and timely legal assistance before, during and after coronial processes;
  • $3 million over three years from 2022–23 for the National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services Forum to deliver legal and non-legal support to First Nations communities; and
  • $1 million over three years from 2022–23 for the representative peak body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, to support its contribution to law reform and policy development to address inequalities in the legal system.
The federal government will also explore options for consolidated national real-time reporting of First Nations deaths in custody, the budget papers added, with costs to be met from within the existing resourcing of the Australian Institute of Criminology.

Speaking about this funding, A-G Dreyfus said: “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are tragically over-represented at every point in the justice system. Turning the tide on the unacceptably high rate of incarceration and deaths in custody is a key priority of this package.

“The voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are critical to achieving the justice targets under the National Agreement on Closing the Gap.” 


Elsewhere, the budget provides $42.5 million over four years to implement its response to recommendations of the Respect@Work report, including:

  • $32 million over four years to fund Working Women’s Centres in all states and territories to provide advice, information and advocacy to workers on gender-based workplace issues, including sexual harassment;
  • $5.8 million over four years to support education and compliance activities associated with introducing a positive duty on employers to take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate sex discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation as far as possible;
  • $2.6 million over three years to hear and confidentially document the experiences of victims of historical workplace sexual harassment; and
  • $2.1 million over four years from this year, and $0.4 million per year ongoing, to establish a one-stop shop for workplace sexual harassment information, including about victims’ rights, complaint options, support service referrals and employer responsibilities.
Cheaper childcare

From July next year, more than 1.2 million eligible families will be given higher childcare subsidies, as the government commits to a $4.7 billion spend over four years to make early childhood education and care more affordable. The Child Care Subsidy rates will increase up to 90 per cent for eligible families earning less than $530,000. Families will continue to receive existing higher subsidy rates of up to 95 per cent for any additional children in care aged five and under.

“It will increase the paid hours worked by women with young children by up to 1.4 million hours a week in the first year alone. That’s the equivalent of 37,000 extra full-time workers,” Treasurer Chalmers declared.

“Because our early childhood educators guide our young ones and help them grow in those critical early years, for the best possible start in life — it’s more than care. It is cost-of-living relief with an economic dividend.”

Paid parental leave

In the biggest expansion to paid parental leave since its creation, the government has announced a $531.6 million spend over four years to expand upon the Paid Parental Leave Scheme. By 2026, families will be able to access up to 26 weeks of paid parental leave. This is the biggest reform to the scheme since its introduction in 2011 — and the modernised scheme will include reserved “use it or lose it” weeks for each parent in a bid to encourage both parents to take parental leave.

Parents will be able to take leave in blocks as well as days at the time, which Treasurer Chalmers said would not only take the “pressure off household budgets” but also ensure “greater equality and greater security for Australian women”.

Gender equality

Further, Treasurer Chalmers announced a record investment in women’s safety, as well as other actions to advance gender equality.

The government will develop a National Strategy to Achieve Gender Equality, which will be guided by the new independent Women’s Economic Equality Taskforce and informed by broad consultation. It will also require large companies to publicly report their gender pay gap to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency to improve transparency and encourage change, with pay secrecy clauses in employment contracts slashed.

The Women’s budget papers state that “improving women’s representation in leadership positions and in our parliaments is crucial to achieving gender equality” and that the “government is committed to a society where women and men are equal”. 

Changes to the Fair Work Act will make it easier for women in low-paid sectors to make pay equity claims. The Fair Work Commission will need to consider gender equity when setting minimum wages. The budget provides $20.2 million over four years to set up two new expert panels on pay equity and the care and community sector to support the Fair Work Commission.

Family Violence

In a move to help combat family violence, the government will deliver a record investment of $1.7 billion over six years to support women’s safety. 

The Treasurer also announced $1.3 billion in funding to support the implementation of the National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children 2022–23, which will fund initiatives to support the prevention of violence, early intervention, responses, and recovery and healing. Additionally, the government has committed to legislate 10 days of paid family and domestic violence leave, in addition to providing $65 million over four years for consent and respectful relationships education.

Treasurer Chalmers also announced that of the $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund, the returns from around $1.6 billion would be directed to delivering 4,000 social housing dwellings. These will be provided for women and children fleeing domestic violence and older women on low incomes at risk of homelessness. 

Efficiencies in A-G’s Department

The budget papers note that the government is set to redirect savings of $15.3 million to fund other initiatives across the Attorney-General’s portfolio.

The savings that were identified include: $8.9 million over two years from 2022–23 from the deferred establishment of the National Coronial Centre, pending the outcomes of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide, and $6.4 million over four years from 2022–23 (and $1.8 million per year ongoing) from the abolition of the Native Title Respondent Scheme.

These savings, the budget argued, “will offset the government’s election commitments and realign expenditure to support government priorities”.

Moreover, the government will redirect $50 million over two years from the reversal of Round 7 of the Safer Communities program, which was funded but not announced in the 2022–23 March budget.

“This funding will offset the government’s election commitments and will also be redirected to fund other initiatives across the Attorney-General’s portfolio to realign expenditure to support other government priorities,” the papers said.

“This measure was identified as part of the spending audit, which has focused on the quality of spending, uncommitted funding, duplicative measures and reprioritising existing funding towards higher priority initiatives and budget repair.”