“This funding recognises that there has been a substantial increase in the prevalence of family violence and high risk cases in the family law system, and the heightened need for so many parts of the country to have the critical support that the Lighthouse model can provide.”
LSJ has put together a summary of some of the key announcements from the 2022-23 Federal Budget relevant to Australia’s legal profession.
At a glance ...
- Additional funding for family law services
- Family violence and community legal centres
- Indigenous issues
- Migration and Humanitarian promises
- Visas and Australia’s post-pandemic workforce
- War crimes in Afghanistan
- Business considerations
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg handed down the budget last night ahead of the impending federal election, putting a key focus on the cost-of-living in a bid to ease anxious voters heading to the polls.
The Morrison Government has pledged to bring down soaring fuel prices in a matter of weeks by cutting the fuel excise in half. Australians earning under $126,000 will also be given a one-off $420 payment delivered at tax return time, and $250 will be given to eligible pensioners to help pay for everyday items.
Frydenberg also confirmed in his Budget speech that unemployment is at its equal lowest in 48 years, sitting at 4 per cent.
The Federal Government is also expected to spend over $6 billion to support flood-ravaged communities in Northern NSW and Queensland. $5.4 million will be dedicated to legal assistance services to support the relief and recovery of these communities.
“We look forward to the future; realistic about the growing threats we face, ambitious for our country and our children, optimistic about what can be achieved,” Frydenberg said in his speech.
“As we emerge from the pandemic, we are building an even stronger, more secure and confident Australia. Where aspiration and enterprise are encouraged and rewarded, where families have greater flexibility and choice, where those in need get a helping hand, where greater self-reliance leaves our nation less vulnerable, where out modern competitive industries create new jobs, and where Australia and our allies protect our national interest.
“This is our vision for Australia.”
Law Council President Tass Liveris welcomed the funding announced to support Australians interacting with the family law system, women experiencing family violence and those affected by the floods.
“The looming Federal Election is another important opportunity for those seeking to be our elected representatives to commit to the investment needed to ensure that all arms of our justice system can effectively help the people of Australia,” Liveris said.
Additional funding for family law services
The federal government has pledged:
- $87.9 million over the next four years to expand the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia’s Lighthouse Project pilot which triages family violence matters before the Court. This includes investment to enhance culturally responsive support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families across the Court. The remaining $24.2 million will be provided to Legal Aid Commissions over 3 years to raise their capacity to meet increased demand for representation services.
- $52.4 million over four years to protect victim-survivors of family violence from being cross-examined by perpetrators
- $8.4 million over three years to pilot specialised and trauma-informed legal services for victim-survivors of sexual assault
- $1.8 million over three years for advice and support services for women who experience sexual harassment
- $1.2 million over four years to develop and implement a training and education program for volunteers who assist court users within the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia.
“The Law Council is particularly pleased to see additional funding for the Lighthouse Project, which triages matters with serious family violence, and the Family Violence and Cross Examination of Parties Scheme and additional funding for the Court and Legal Aid Commissions,” Liveris said.
“However, this funding does not effectively acknowledge that some of these initiatives, particularly the case management pathway, have increased costs for Australian families and that the family law sector has been significantly underfunded for many years. We will have to wait to see the impact this funding has on reducing the backlog of matters, in meeting the growing demand for services and ensuring Australian families can afford assistance when they need it.”
Family violence and community legal centres
The Treasurer also announced a $1.3 billion package to end violence against women and children.
“More frontline services, emergency accommodation, and support to access legal and health services for women and children in need,” Frydenberg said.
Key measures include funding to strengthen initiatives to prevent gendered violence, to extend and establish programs aimed at early intervention, counselling services to support victim-services and awareness campaigns aimed at boys and men.
Budget papers also detailed a $7 million investment over two years for nine Women’s and Community Legal Services nationally, to help women access legal assistance and immigration support.
The Government will spend $636.4 million over six years from 2022-23 to expand the Indigenous Rangers Program, to increase the capacity of Indigenous people to undertake land and sea country management while also providing long term education and employment opportunities.
However above and beyond this measure, the budget papers were otherwise lacking in the way of legal and justice funding measurers for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
“The looming Federal Election is another important opportunity for those seeking to be our elected representatives to commit to the investment needed to ensure that all arms of our justice system can effectively help the people of Australia.”
Migration and Humanitarian promises
The Government will maintain the 2022-23 permanent Migration Program planned intake at 160,000 people. Skill stream places will increase from the 2021-22 planning levels to 109,900, and account for around 70 per cent of the permanent Migration Program.
10,000 places also will be redistributed from the Partner visa category into the skill stream.
While the Government will keep the Humanitarian Program at 13,750 places in 2022-23, extra places for Afghan nationals have been announced. The budget includes $665.9 million over the next four years for an additional 16,500 places for people fleeing Afghanistan.
The Government will also allocate a three-year Temporary Humanitarian Concern Visa to Ukrainian people.
Visas and Australia’s post-pandemic workforce
The budget details a plan to attract international students and backpackers to Australia once again, after the COVID-19 pandemic halted the regular influx. The Government says the following measures will aim to supplement Australia’s workforce:
- Increase country caps for Work and Holiday visas by 30 per cent in 2022-23, increasing overall places available by 11,000
- Relaxed work restrictions for a range of visas including eligible Student and Working Holiday Maker visa holders
- Refunding the Visa Application Charge for Student visa holders who arrive in Australia between 19 January 2022 and 19 March 2022, and for Working Holiday Maker visa holders who arrive in Australia between 19 January 2022 and 19 April 2022
- Extended visas for certain engineering graduates negatively affected by recent travel restrictions
War crimes in Afghanistan
The government will provide $6.7 million in 2022-23 to support the work of the Office of the Special Investigator’s (OSI) investigation and prosecution of potential war crimes in Afghanistan.
This follows the report by Justice Paul Brereton into allegations of misconduct by Australia’s Special Forces in Afghanistan.
$3.9 million will go to the Attorney General’s Department to provide OSI with specialist legal advice on international law and the protection of classified information in proceedings and mutual legal assistance.
A further $2.8m will be provided to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions to provide advice and training in relation to briefs of evidence.
Frydenberg also announced tax relief measure for small businesses.
“Starting tonight, for every hundred dollars a small business spends on training their employees, they will get a $120 tax deduction, helping them become more productive and competitive,” he said.
The Government said they are “backing small businesses that are embracing the digital revolution.
Every hundred dollars small businesses spend on digital technologies like cloud computing, eInvoicing, cyber security and web design will see them get a $120 tax deduction.
Other measures include:
- $10.4 million to enhance and redesign the Payment Times Reporting Portal and Register
- $5.6 million for a dedicated small business unit in the Fair Work Commission
- $8 million to the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman
- $4.6 million to extend Beyond Blue’s New Access for Small Business Owners program which provides mental health support for small business owners
- $2.1 million for Financial Counselling Australia’s Small Business Debt Helpline
$29.8 million will also be allocated to further reform insolvency arrangements. This includes $22 million to implement reforms to unfair preference rules, including enhancing the Assetless Administration Fund, and $7 million to clarify the treatment of trusts with corporate trustees under Australia’s insolvency laws.
The Treasurer concluded his budget speech by acknowledging the turbulent times Australians have endured over the last three years.
“Drought, fire, floods. A global pandemic for which there was no playbook. Despite the challenges, our economic recovery is leading the world. This is not a time to change course. This is a time to stick to our plan,” he said.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese will deliver his Budget reply speech tomorrow.