Rolls Royce or Rundown 1970s Kingswood? Australia's legal aid in comparative perspective.
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The Commonwealth Attorney-General, Daryl Williams’ comment earlier this year that Australia’s legal aid was a ‘Rolls Royce’ scheme was surprisingly ill informed and created an unfortunate perception that legal aid commissions (LACs) were well funded but mismanaged, bloated and wasting public money. The comment was made in order to support the 1996 Budget decision to cut Commonwealth funding to legal aid but as I demonstrate below, it showed a surprising lack of knowledge about Australia’s legal aid scheme. In particular, Williams ignored the evidence demonstrating that Australia’s legal aid is, by comparison with similar large, publicly funded schemes, one of the meanest in the western world. In this article I explore some context issues which may help explain why Williams cut legal aid and then I examine Australia’s scheme in a comparative perspective.