Thursday, 26 March 2015
Questions without Notice
I of course note that this is Senator Mason's valedictory question, something that I must note with a good deal of nostalgia. There will be many occasions in coming days and week to felicitate you, Senator Mason, and celebrate your contribution to this chamber over the last 15 years, but may I say during the course of question time today that it has been a distinguished contribution and a great association.
At one o'clock this afternoon I was able to announce more good news from the Abbott government—that the changes to the Commonwealth's contribution to legal assistance, announced from 1 July 2015, will not proceed. That means that the final two years of supplementary funding previously allocated to community legal centres will be restored, with benefits to 61 centres. Funding to the Indigenous Legal Assistance Program will be restored so that in 2015-16 and 2016-17 the MYEFO savings measure will not take effect, and funding from the Expensive Criminal Cases Fund will be restored, so that savings measure will not take effect. The aggregate effect of these announcements will be to restore $25.5 million in Commonwealth contribution over the next two years to Commonwealth legal assistance. That will mean that community legal centres—
Indigenous legal assistance and state and territory legal aid commissions will continue to have their current funding. I said in an answer to a question two days ago that there have been no cuts, and there have not been, and after 1 July there will be none.
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the Attorney-General advise the Senate of steps the government is taking to deliver funding certainty to providers of legal assistance and the members of our community who depend upon them?
Yes, I can, and in fact the announcement I made at one o'clock this afternoon will restore that certainty. As I acknowledged, as the national partnership agreement, which is a quadrennial agreement, moved to the expiry of its term on 30 June 2015 there was concern entertained by some in the legal assistance sector as to what would happen from 1 July. The 2013 MYEFO announcement did foreshadow that cuts would be made after 1 July 2015, although I am at pains to point out to Senator Mason that those cuts have not taken effect yet. And as a result of the decision made by the Prime Minister, in consultation with myself and with my friend Senator Nigel Scullion and my friend Senator Michaelia Cash in recent days, those cuts will not take effect. There will be no diminution in Commonwealth legal assistance arising from that decision. (Time expired)
Yes, I can. Over the past 18 months the government has carefully examined legal assistance funding to ensure that it is directed to front-line services. When we came to power we found that a substantial proportion of the legal assistance budget was directed to so-called policy work or advocacy work—useful work, but not as important in the scheme of things as actually helping people in need. So, our mantra, my approach to the provision of legal assistance, has been to put clients before causes. Where you have needy people, vulnerable people, in need of support, their needs come before the advocacy of causes, and I do not relent that for a moment. That approach, together with the announcement I made at one o'clock today, should restore any lingering uncertainty from the sector. (Time expired)