Access to justice shouldn't be dependent on the size of your wallet. Too many Australians are being marginalised by a legal system that is completely out of their reach. Legal assistance is not a privilege – it is the right of all Australians. The Greens are the only party to fund legal assistance based on actual need.
To live in a truly just society, we must have a legal system that can serve those who cannot afford to pay for legal representation, through to those that have no voice.
But what we currently have is far from a system that provides access to justice for all, and it's only getting worse.
It is not just the Greens that think this isn't good enough: the Government's own Productivity Commission also considered the situation dire, and urgently called for extra funding.
Restoring and increasing legal assistance funding
Legal assistance includes services such as the Legal Aid Commission, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, Family Violence Prevention Legal Services, and Community Legal Centres.
Community Legal Centres help over 200,000 clients each year. But they also turn away over 150,000 people in need of help every year – largely due to a lack of resources. Community Legal Centres need more resourcing to match this demand but the Government is slashing more and more funding from them.
Defending the environment
The Abbott-Turnbull Government cut ALL federal funding for Environmental Defenders Offices in 2014 for purely ideological reasons.
This was another of their relentless attacks on the environment and all who advocate on its behalf.
The Greens will wholly reinstate federal funding for Environmental Defenders Offices at $14.5m over four years (including indexation).
Cutting court costs
Although we were successful in blocking the Turnbull- Government's latest attempts at raising court fees by introducing a "divorce tax", court fees are still too expensive and prohibitive to our most disadvantaged citizens.
The Greens will invest $143.25 million over the forward estimates to return Federal court fees to 2010-2011 levels, subject to indexation.
A national survey of legal need
The true picture of unmet legal need is unknown. One-off surveys of legal need have uncovered some alarming statistics. For instance: In a year around one half of all Australians will experience a legal problem. For half of these people, the problem will have a moderate to severe impact on their lives. Only one in two people will seek professional advice, and one in five will take no action at all.
The reasons given for taking no action were often related to stress (30%), cost (27%) or simply not knowing what to do (21%).
A regular survey of legal need will identify what Australians, particularly those who are most disadvantaged, require to access and receive justice, and appropriate levels of resourcing to meet those needs.
The Greens have allocated $8m across the forward estimates to fund a regular national survey of legal need.