Many hits, some misses in Federal budget

10th May 2017

Federal budget commitments to sustainably fund the NDIS, scrap funding cuts to community legal support, increase bank accountability and fund a redress scheme for survivors of institutional sexual abuse have been welcomed today by the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).

However ALA National President Tony Kenyon said he was concerned by a budget proposal to drug-test welfare recipients, saying it would do nothing to help addicts break their drug dependencies.

“The 2017 Federal budget goes a long way to securing justice for Australians from many walks of life,” Mr Kenyon said.

“The thousands of Australians who stand to benefit from an improved quality of life via the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) will be reassured by the government’s plans to sustainably fund the scheme for decades to come.

“There is a lot to be done to ensure that the revolution in disability care promised by the NDIS lives up to its promise and delivers a world-leading disability support program that Australia deserves,” Mr Kenyon said.

Mr Kenyon also welcomed the government’s decision to reverse cuts to community legal sector funding.

“The government’s commitment to scrap funding cuts to the community legal sector is fitting recognition of the importance these legal centres play in the lives of many Australians,” Mr Kenyon said.

“However current funding levels are still well below the Productivity Commission’s recommended increase of $200 million in additional annual funding, which it described as an investment in reducing costs elsewhere that can arise when vulnerable people slip through the cracks.”

“I also note also that not all community legal centres (CLCs) are benefitting equally from the cut reversal. While there is still a lack of clarity, it appears some CLCs will still lose essential funding from July 1,” Mr Kenyon said.

Mr Kenyon said the commitment to fund a redress scheme for survivors of institutional child abuse must preserve the right of survivors to seek justice through the courts.

“It is essential that this institutional child abuse redress scheme provides for legal as well as psychological support for survivors,” Mr Kenyon said.

“Survivors must also be able to pursue common law damages if they prefer, especially given the low cap of $150,000, which is grossly inadequate to fairly compensate survivors for the psychological and physical injuries that their abuse has left them with.”

“This redress scheme must empower survivors with the choice to pursue redress in the way that is most meaningful for them,” Mr Kenyon said.

Mr Kenyon welcomed moves to increase the oversight for banks, noting there is still much to do on this front.

“The ALA has been advocating for increased banking oversight by a body such as the proposed Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA), with binding dispute resolution powers,” Mr Kenyon said.

“The ‘one-stop shop’ model has the potential to simplify and improve the dispute resolution process, however much depends on the details and execution.

“We still have concerns over some of the details. For example, the scheme for the new superannuation tribunal needs to recognise and accommodate people having their own legal representation, just as banks and insurers will have their own representatives,” Mr Kenyon said.

“We also need to see details about a scheme of last resort, preferably retrospective, to allow the recovery of losses by consumers who are ripped off but can’t recover because professional indemnity insurance won’t pay.

“Will the AFCA be able to make binding decisions on professional indemnity insurers? Will consumers retain a right of appeal to the courts? Will the government appoint a banking Royal Commission?”

However Mr Kenyon said that the budget measure targeting welfare recipients by drug testing them was very concerning.

“Drug-testing welfare recipients will do little to assist people struggling with addiction,” Mr Kenyon said.

“It does have the potential to leave welfare recipients and their children in serious hardship. Will test results be used to discriminate?  Will test results be passed onto police?  Will people be protected against self-incrimination?”

Mr Kenyon also called for a Women’s Budget Impact Statement, saying this was the only way to assess how proposed budget measures would impact men and women differently.

“It is essential to ensure that the budget theme of fairness is enjoyed by both sexes equally,” Mr Kenyon said.