Thursday, 15 September 2016
Budget Savings (Omnibus) Bill 2016; In Committee
I am just trying to get my head around this. Access to legal aid is not an inherent right for veterans even with the operational service. This is evident when New South Wales legal aid decided in December 2014, and in response to cuts to legal aid funding—and, by the way, we have had more cuts to legal aid funding; isn't this hitting home?—with the Commonwealth Attorney-General not funding veterans even with operational service, after being notified of this substantial policy change by the New South Wales legal aid on 19 December 2014 and bringing it to the attention of and enlisting the assistance from ESOs by reminding DVA of how they spruiked the VRB system as providing beneficial support to veterans with operational service—that is, access to legal aid and New South Wales legal aid commission reinstated aid.
Isn't it true that DVA cannot control or determine access to legal aid and it is the states and territories that disburse legal aid after the Commonwealth Attorney-General makes a grant? This relationship is made abundantly clear by DVA to compensation lawyers. When we have previously highlighted how hard it is to run cases on the current grant of legal aid, we are told that it is not within DVA's control as it is state government that determines the amount of the grant. So the rights for veterans with operational service, and having gone through the proposed single pathway, the VRB, and expecting access to legal aid, are not enshrined, are they? Clearly, this is not a hypothetical question given what has happened in the recent past. DVA, the Department of Veterans' Affairs, are full of it. They cannot rely on the goodwill of the state or territory legal aid commissions to fund veterans. That is a straight-out lie, especially when they are subjected to the Commonwealth Attorney-General reducing their annual grants. Who will miss out? Our veterans, not those applying for legal aid for committing violent crimes and needing access to lawyers as a liberty, are at stake. So maybe you can explain to me how all these people are supposed to get legal aid funding, because, by the way, while they are fighting their cases they are broke. They are struggling to put bread on the table for their kids; they are going through marriage break-ups. It is just putting more financial strain on them. So maybe you can tell them out there, while they are listening to us on radio, how you promised to give them a guarantee that they would get legal aid funding.