A new partnership between the Commonwealth and states and territories will provide a significant boost to legal services available to vulnerable Australians, including people affected by domestic violence.

The National Legal Assistance Partnership 2020-25 (NLAP) will distribute over $2 billion between all states and territories for Commonwealth funded legal assistance.

Developed in collaboration with the states and territories, the NLAP builds on the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services 2015-20 (NPA) and incorporates recommendations from recent reviews of the NPA and the Indigenous Legal Assistance Program.

“The new $2 billion includes additional funding of $248 million over five years. This includes the permanent restoration of $151 million in legal assistance funding that would have been stripped from the legal assistance sector based on decisions of former, consecutive governments”, the Attorney-General, Christian Porter said.

In addition, the NLAP will improve coordination and flexibility across governments and the sector to keep services in reach of people who need legal assistance. For the first time, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (ATSILS) are included in the agreement. In an acknowledgement that Aboriginal Controlled Community Organisations are best placed to deliver culturally safe services within their own communities, the NLAP includes a formal commitment to self?determination—the first time that these principles have been included within Commonwealth legal assistance arrangements.

The ATSILS and its national peak body, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, have been extensively consulted to ensure that funding for the vital services they deliver is appropriately safeguarded.

“The Government is committed to ensuring a fair justice system for all, and this agreement ensures our most vulnerable Australians are able to seek legal assistance when they need it,” the Attorney-General said.

“This major $2 billion dollar investment helps to address a number of priorities for this Government, including domestic and family violence.”

The $2 billion in funding includes:

  • $1.2 billion in funding for Legal Aid Commissions
  • $284 million for Community Legal Centres
  • $441 million for ATSILS
  • $51 million for Domestic Violence Units/Health Justice Partnerships
  • $20 million for Family Advocacy and Support Services, and
  • $20 million for state and territory governments to administer the NLAP.

The Attorney-General thanked the legal assistance sector for its input into the development of the agreement.

“The NLAP provides funding certainty to the legal assistance sector,” the Attorney-General said.

The NLAP also significantly enhances the collection and reporting of legal assistance service data. “This is a once-in-a-five year opportunity to improve the collection of legal assistance data and improve our understanding of issues facing the sector”, the Attorney-General said.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has been engaged to receive, store and analyse the data collected under the NLAP.

Separately, and in addition, the Morrison Government has committed $8.75 million to support the delivery of legal services to victims of the 2019-20 bushfire disasters in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia.

“Many communities in these states are still struggling to get back on their feet after the fires – a situation made so much worse by the arrival of COVID-19 just as the fires were being extinguished,” the Attorney-General said.

“The extra funding we are providing will ensure that those with specific bushfire-related legal issues can get access to justice and hopefully get back to some sense of normality as quickly as possible.”

This additional support is being delivered through a separate agreement with the relevant state governments.

The NLAP will commence on 1 July 2020, while the bushfire legal assistance funding was made available from 29 May 2020.