Fingers pointed as legal aid suffers

BOTH the state and federal governments are dodging responsibility for fixing a multi-million dollar shortfall in Victoria’s Legal Aid budget which has seen services slashed.

In recent months, several Bendigo lawyers have joined colleagues across the state to attack changes to Legal Aid eligibility requirements which they say will leave many of society’s most vulnerable unrepresented.

Victorian Legal Aid has had to reduce its services in a bid to combat a budget blowout caused by an increase in demand for aid.

Victorian Legal Aid management has said the increase was driven by the state government’s crackdown on family violence.

Loddon Campaspe Community Legal Centre principal solicitor Anna Howard said she supported a greater focus on family violence, but “not without a commensurate increase in funding to account for the flow-on effect upon Victoria’s justice system”.

But a spokesperson for Victoria’s Attorney-General Robert Clark said the state had already provided “record levels” of funding for Legal Aid.

“In the most recent Victorian budget, the Coalition government provided more than $26 million a year in additional ongoing funding to help Victorians obtain legal advice and assistance,” the spokesperson said.

“Over the next four years, Victoria will provide over $400 million of State funding for legal assistance, compared with just $236 million from the Commonwealth.”

A spokesperson for Australian Attorney-General Nicola Roxon blamed the previous federal government for the funding shortfalls. “Unfortunately the legal assistance system is still recovering from the heartless funding freeze implemented by the Howard government,” the spokesperson said.

“Federal Labor has overturned John Howard’s freeze on legal assistance and we are now investing more than $1.3 billion in legal assistance, which is the largest commitment in more than a decade.”

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