Legal Aid urges Federal Government to make long term investment in legal assistance

15 May  2024

National Legal Aid welcomes indexation of National Legal Assistance Partnership (NLAP) core funding and the announcement of funding for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, Family Violence Prevention Legal Services and Community Legal Centres to address workforce gaps. The legal assistance sector is in crisis and this funding will contribute to ensuring that vital services continue to be provided in the community.

But, it urges the Federal Government to release the report of the independent review of the NLAP and work with legal assistance services to plan for and commit significant investment at the next Budget. Indexation, whilst welcome, represents additional funding of approximately $10.8 million nationally for Legal Aid, a figure that falls well short of the estimated $484 million identified in the Justice on the Brink report as needed to meet demand for family and civil law assistance, increase the means test and retain legal practitioners.

This amount unfortunately also falls short of the funding needed to continue vital national services in the disability and veterans areas and critical funding needed to help ensure ongoing availability of family lawyers who have increased workloads as a consequence of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia merger. For example, the funding lost for family law may mean a reduction of approximately 2,000 grants of aid nationally.

It is disappointing that these areas have not received ongoing funding in this Budget and are at risk of ending or being significantly reduced.

Legal Aid services are provided to the most disadvantaged people in Australia – the majority of the funding received from the Federal Government provides family law legal assistance that supports victim-survivors of domestic and family violence. Of our clients, 100 per cent live below the poverty line, 9 per cent are First Nations peoples, 25 per cent are people with a disability while 86 per cent of all Legal Aid family law matters include a risk of domestic and family violence.

Access to Legal Aid family law legal assistance is a critical part of addressing domestic and family violence and this was highlighted in the conversation around the current national crisis over the past month.

Yet we face significant challenges in delivering legal assistance including restricted eligibility, increased demand and a reducing supply of legal practitioners. Only 8% of all Australian households are eligible for a grant of Legal Aid, and even then clients also need to present with a range of contributing factors to qualify due to under-resourcing in the face of ongoing demand.

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