Page 2926 - Week 09 - Thursday, 13 August 2015
offered at all points of the criminal justice system, involving diversionary, pre-sentence and post-sentence opportunities. This recognises that the chief value of restorative justice comes from offenders understanding the real consequences of what they have done and actively engaging in reparative work and the resolution that this provides for their victims in this victim-centric scheme.
The extension of the scheme to more serious offences will be progressed in stages with the final stages being a move to deal with family and domestic violence and sexual assault matters. In many cases, because of the power imbalance and emotional manipulation that can occur, it will not be appropriate for an offender in a family and domestic violence case or a sexual assault case to go through RJ. But if a victim wishes to go through a restorative justice process and if the particular case is determined to be safe and otherwise appropriate the case will be able to be conferenced through restorative justice. The extension of the RJ scheme keeps the victim’s safety and interests paramount.
This budget also recognises the current fiscal situation and the challenges the ACT faces going forward in a system where the commonwealth is continually cutting its support for critical services such as legal assistance. The ACT government cannot simply fill the position that the commonwealth is abdicating. What we can do though is work with stakeholders to assist them to best survive the coming cuts in funding. The Justice and Community Safety Directorate is engaging with the legal assistance sector to assist with this service planning. Service planning is not the answer to everything. It will not replace a loss of funding but it will go some way to ensuring that the most vulnerable in our community are provided with the best assistance available and to help the legal assistance sector to weather the coming storm.Apart from the funding for street law the budget invests over $860,000 over two years for the Legal Aid Commission to provide essential legal services to the community. The importance of the role played by legal aid cannot be overstated. Legal problems can be complex and can lead to reductions in socioeconomic status. They can work to keep the most vulnerable citizens in our community at a disadvantage compared to others whose lives have been less troubled. Legal assistance is sometimes seen to be a nice-to-have but it is not. The services provided by legal aid can make a significant difference to the lives of individuals and I am very pleased the government has been able to provide this additional funding this year.
The budget provides $3.159 million over four years for additional resourcing to the ACT Government Solicitor’s Office and this funding will provide for four additional staff to assist in meeting the government’s increasing demand for legal services as the scale and complexity of the issues the government must address increase.
As I said at the outset, as attorney I am proud of this budget we are debating today and the important initiatives it supports. The government has demonstrated its strong commitment to protect the vulnerable in our community, including victims of crime, and to work continuously to improve access to justice for ACT citizens. The funding that I have described is well considered as part of a broader continuum of work that I will continue to undertake. I commend the budget to the Assembly.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.