Senate debates

Thursday, 10 May 2018


National Pro Bono Day, Legal Aid

11:57 am

Photo of Stirling GriffStirling Griff (SA, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

I, and also on behalf of Senator McKim, move:

That the Senate:

(a) notes that:

  (i) National Pro Bono Day is celebrated on 15 May 2018 and raises funds for legal aid clearing houses across Australia,

  (ii) legal aid services provide an essential service and strive to ensure that all citizens, not just the wealthy, have equal access to justice,

  (iii) however, due to a lack of resources an excessively restrictive means test remains in place and consequently tens of thousands of people are not eligible for legal aid funding:

(A) Only a tiny proportion of the population are eligible for legal aid funding, and

(B) 14 per cent of the population live below the poverty line in Australia, but only 6 per cent of those below the line would actually qualify for legal aid, and

  (iv) the Federal Government contribution to legal aid has, in real terms, fallen to its lowest level in 20 years:

(A) in 1996-97, the Government contributed $11.57 per capita but by 2017- 2018, that figure had fallen to $8.40,

(B) this is forecast to decline further to $7.78 in 2019-2020,

(C) the Federal Government's share of legal aid funding has fallen from 55 per cent in 1996-1997 to 32 per cent in 2017-2018, and

(D) a return to a 50 per cent share would have required an investment of $190 million in this year's Budget – this did not occur;

(b) acknowledges the valuable work undertaken by legal aid providers and those who volunteer their time on a pro bono basis;

(c) calls on all senators to become supporters of legal aid and participate in their local 'Walk for Justice' event on National Pro Bono Day; and

(d) calls on the Government to reverse the downward trend in legal aid funding.

11:58 am

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

I seek leave to make a short statement.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Leave is granted for one minute

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

The government understands that legal problems in Australia are widespread and acutely affect the most vulnerable and disadvantaged Australians. We support and acknowledge the valuable work undertaken by those in the legal aid sector and those who volunteer their time pro bono to assist disadvantaged Australians to understand and resolve their legal issues. Funding under the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services 2015-20 will increase from $251 million to $270 million. Between 2015 and 2020 the Australian government will provide over $1.77 billion to legal assistance services to deliver frontline services to disadvantaged Australians.

Question agreed to.