Tuesday, 02 April 2019

Budget increase provides funding certainty for legal assistance services

Media release

The Morrison Government will deliver a baseline funding boost and guaranteed long-term financial commitments for frontline legal services in the 2019-20 Budget.

Attorney-General, Christian Porter, said guaranteeing stable and long-term funding certainty for legal services delivered by Legal Aid Commissions (LACs), Community Legal Centres (CLCs) and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (ATSILS) was part of the Government's plan for a stronger economy.

Under the Morrison Government's Legal Assistance Package, baseline funding to LACs, CLCs and ATSILS will increase from $350.3 million in 2019-20 to a total of $370.0 million (indexed) ongoing from 1 July 2020. This funding will guarantee the continued delivery of important frontline services and support a more collaborative and innovative legal assistance sector.

"Legal assistance services provide vital support to many of our community's most vulnerable people, and this big funding boost reflects the importance the Morrison Government places on the services they deliver," the Attorney-General said.

"Under the Morrison Government's increase to baseline funding, LACs, CLCs and ATSILS will not only have funding certainty into the future, but they will also be able to expand their legal service offerings."

A single National Mechanism will be developed to deliver legal assistance funding from 1 July 2020.  This National Mechanism will provide a unified administrative mechanism that provides guaranteed and quarantined funding to LACs, CLCs and ATSILS.

"This increase in baseline funding is possible because of the Morrison Government's strong economic management and fiscal discipline," the Attorney-General said.

"It means the legal assistance sector and the communities that it serves will know the increased rate of future Commonwealth funding is guaranteed.

"The Morrison Government is committed to working closely and in partnership with the States, Territories and the legal assistance sector to ensure that the design of the National Mechanism is appropriate to the current legal assistance landscape, preserves its structure and best meets the needs of our most vulnerable.

"I am committed to finalising the National Mechanism with the states and territories by the end of 2019, well in advance of the expiry of current arrangements on 30 June 2020."

The Legal Assistance Package also includes $17.3 million over four years for the Expensive Commonwealth Criminal Cases Fund, increasing the Government's total investment to $8.1 million (indexed) each year. This will ensure that major commonwealth criminal cases are appropriately resourced and don't impact frontline civil and family law services.

The Legal Assistance Package follows the 2018 reviews of the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services 2015-2020 (NPA) and the Indigenous Legal Assistance Program (ILAP), which emphasised the essential work of the legal assistance sector in addressing the legal needs of vulnerable and disadvantaged people.

The 2019-20 Budget also includes:

  • Funding of $35.5 million to enable the expansion of the Federal Court of Australia's criminal jurisdiction to include corporate crime. The expansion was announced as part of the Morrison Government's response to the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry. The funding will provide for an additional two Federal judges and associated resources from 1 July 2019 to enhance the overall capacity of the Australian court system and ensure prosecution of financial crimes occurs in a timely manner.
  • $25.1 million over three years for the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner to support a new privacy regime for social media and online platforms that trade in Australians' personal information. The funding boost will also underpin new penalties and enforcement powers under the Privacy Act, ensuring that there are appropriate safeguards and penalties for the misuse of Australians' private information, including by major social media platforms. 
  • $104.5 million over four years for the establishment of the Commonwealth Integrity Commission (CIC) as an independent, statutory agency, as announced by the Prime Minister and Attorney-General in December 2018. The CIC will be led by an Independent Integrity Commissioner and two Deputy Commissioners with separate public and law enforcement integrity divisions to protect the integrity of Commonwealth public administration while avoiding the pitfalls, weaknesses and abuses of process that we have seen in state bodies.
  • An extra $16.4 million over two years for a targeted approach to tackling fraud. This funding will improve the way the Commonwealth uses intelligence and data to combat fraud and design fraud resilient programs, and fund the AFP to strengthen whole-of-government efforts to detect, disrupt and respond to serious and complex fraud. The measures will build on the success of the recent Family Day Care Payment Integrity Surge, which prevented $1.2 billion being lost to fraud.