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LIV President's Blog 2012

LIV President's Blog 2013

Reynah Tang, LIV President 2013 on the latest issues and topics. Read and comment.

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A ‘Fair Go’ for access to justice

A ‘Fair Go’ for access to justice
“The fair go is at the heart of everything Labor stands for,” Treasurer Wayne Swan told Parliament as he handed down the Federal Budget this week.

Despite the historic social policy reform represented by the National Disability Insurance Scheme, that sentiment isn’t reflected in the budget when it comes to access to justice for some of society’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged.

A band aid budget
Last week, the State Government applied a band aid to the growing legal aid crisis. Its budget included a mere $3.4 million a year over four years for legal aid funding. Focus then turned to the Federal Government to provide leadership in this area. But on Tuesday, we learned that it has allocated a paltry $15 million a year over two years in additional funding – to be divvied up between the states and territories. By the time you do the maths, it’s not hard to see that the funding won’t go very far at all.

We need the Federal Government to chip in its share and contribute 50 per cent of the nation’s legal aid funding, the way it did before 1997. This is particularly critical in Victoria, where vulnerable women and children currently in the thick of bitter family conflict and enduring long court battles are being denied access to necessary legal representation.

The buck stops here
The finger-pointing between federal and state governments is getting tiresome. This week, the Law Institute of Victoria joined forces with the Victorian Bar to call for a legal aid summit. The only way to end this crisis is to get the relevant parties to talk to each other, and for both levels of government to agree to give legal aid services the funding they need. This matter is too important and affects too many people to get bogged down in politics and buck-passing.

National cooperation is key
The National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services is a treaty between the federal and state governments that aims to facilitate legal assistance reform and provide access to justice to disadvantaged Australians. The agreement, which expires in June next year and is due to be reviewed by the end of June 2013, states that the parties “recognise that they have a mutual interest in improving access to justice for disadvantaged Australians through the provision of legal assistance services and need to work together to achieve this outcome”. 
It’s a document that speaks of national cooperation, and harks back to Labor’s 2007 election platform of “social inclusion”. Yet there is little evidence of both levels of government working together on this. And legal aid remains inaccessible to some of those who are in most need of it.

The news from Canberra wasn’t entirely woeful. The Law Institute welcomes the extra $10 million for community legal centres and $12 million for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services. I recently hosted Federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus at a Law Institute leadership lunch, and he seemed to care about the issue – while also pointing out that many budget decisions were made prior to his appointment as the nation’s chief law-maker in February. If the pollsters are right, he has only a short time to define his legacy in this area.

It is a fundamental tenet that every person has the right to access justice – whether they have the financial means or not. That is at the heart of the ‘Fair Go’. In this, we are failing.

What do you think is required to get a “Fair Go” before the law?
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Jason Elias
Love the blog- would you like to repost it to a large group of lawyers on Linked In? Regards
Jason Elias
20/05/2013 6:05:39 PM

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