Legal assistance funds can be augmented by alcohol and gambling, says ABA

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With legal assistance facing a tight budget, the Australian Bar Association has suggested sourcing funds from a levy on the alcohol and gambling industries.
 
The suggestion comes as the organisation reiterated that it will continue to push for the Federal and State Governments to appropriately fund legal assistance.
 
“We know Australia’s legal assistance services such as legal aid and community legal centres throughout the country are in crisis and everyday Australians are being denied access to justice as a result. We also know governments are working with increasingly strained resources.” said ABA President Patrick O’Sullivan QC.
 
“We’re not suggesting governments take their eyes off the ball. We’re suggesting that we need to start thinking about doing things differently and look at the current challenges as an opportunity to innovate and change,” he added.
 
In an interview with ABC, the bar association president said that there are two choices and they are to keep campaigning to get more money from the government “when the money is not coming,” or taking the opportunity and working as a society and as a profession to practically address the situation.
 
Legal assistance funds coming from the federal government increased 2.5% this financial year to $257m, but it is expected to decrease 3% next fiscal year, the news organisation noted.
 
O’Sullivan also pointed out that the Productivity Commission recommended an immediate injection of $200m, which points to the current increase not being nearly enough.
 
According to the ABA, it held a round-table discussion in Brisbane last week with representatives from State Bars, the Queensland Public Defender’s Office, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service and the National Association of Community Legal Centres.
 
“The forum presented an open discussion about ways to increase the funding of legal assistance through other means, and also looked at how we can deliver justice differently and more efficiently through better use of alternative dispute resolution,” it said in an announcement.
 
“As part of the discussion, we looked at the precursors that lead people to come into contact with the justice system, such as alcohol and gambling. We need to have a good look at these issues and consider revenue raising options from the alcohol and gambling industries to directly support legal assistance.”
 
In addition to a levy on the alcohol and gambling industries, the ABA proposes to source money to augment legal assistance funds from the entire justice system, the speeding fines levy and the High Income Corporation levy.
 
It also proposed looking into alternative dispute resolution such as legislative amendments to Family Law Regulations to allow for arbitration in non-complex children’s matters to make judicial options more efficient.
 
The organisation said that it will prepare a detailed discussion paper on the matter and present it to the Federal Government later this year.
 
It stressed, however, that additional sources of funds is not a replacement for government funding.
 
“The ABA considers that more equal access to justice through the legal assistance sector is a crucial issue for society. While the ABA is looking at new ways of doing things, it remains a core part of what government should fund and provide. The options which the ABA is considering are not in substitution for government funding,” it said.
 
“Campaigns such as Legal Aid Matters have an important role to play and the ABA is entirely supportive of them. However, we also believe it is time to consider alternatives available to assist and support current funding sources.”
 

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