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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2010 Week 07 Hansard (Thursday, 1 July 2010) . . Page.. 3240 ..

Proposed expenditure—Part 1.26—Legal Aid Commission (ACT)—$8,904,000 (net cost of outputs) and $429,000 (capital injection), totalling $9,333,000.

MRS DUNNE (Ginninderra) (1:06 am): The Legal Aid Commission, in the light of the debate that we had yesterday on community legal centres, has been brought to the forefront. It does an extraordinary amount of important legal work in the ACT, with very little funding.

There have been issues over the years, probably since about 1996, relating to the rate at which legal aid is funded by the commonwealth. There have been ongoing problems, which seem to be intractable. There seems to be a little bit of movement around the edges about some flexibility in cost sharing with commonwealth funding for legal aid, but there are some considerable problems there. We heard, in answer to questions on notice, that, in response to a fall off in the ACT Legal Aid Commission’s capacity to provide legal services, we are now down to only about 76 per cent of people who apply for legal aid being able to receive assistance from the Legal Aid Commission, whereas about three years ago that was 80 per cent.

The Legal Aid Commission has told the Assembly, through its answer to a question on notice, that it would need close to another $800,000 to restore the status quo from 2005. This is an alarming state of affairs, particularly in the light of the discussion that we had yesterday about people in need being able to access legal services.

In that context I am concerned about the move of the Legal Aid Commission into its new premises. I understand the reason for the move and, having visited the Legal Aid Commission in its old premises in Moore Street, that a move was very much needed. I understand the new premises are pretty good. We note that in last year’s budget there was a sum of $2 million set aside by the ACT government for that move and that Legal Aid had been able to obtain some more funding from the commonwealth for the purposes of setting up its mediation rooms for family law matters.

We note from answers to questions on notice that the relocation cost was in the region of $3.27 million, which is substantially more than the $2 million that was allocated by the ACT government, and I note that some of the cost was borne through an agreement that the Legal Aid Commission came to with the owner of the building that they were moving into. The owner of that building cashed out an incentive payment, which equated to rent over a period of time—from recollection, about six months worth of rent.

I am concerned about this because what we have seen is that the Legal Aid Commission would have recurrent money in its budget to cover rent, but it has had some money cashed out as an incentive to move into a building. I do not actually know the quantum of that and I gather that is commercial-in-confidence. But, instead of turning that into recurrent money which may have been used to provide legal services to clients or potential clients of the Legal Aid Commission, it was spent on the fit-out. We do have a rather large sum of money spent on a fit-out and the cost of the move, which is a little more than 50 per cent more than was planned for.

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