Legal Services and Neo-Liberalism in an Unequal Legal Order
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In 1975 the landmark ‘Law and Poverty in Australia’ report (Sackville 1975a) sought to ensure substantive rather than formal equality before the law for all Australians. A fundamental aspect of its proposals was an extensive and innovative legal aid system with expanded public funding, with greater assistance in both conventional and new areas of legal need seen as a key in overcoming social disadvantage. By the 21st Century, the focus had shifted further away from the goal of substantive legal equality for all to the principle goal of cost efficiency. This paper details and analyses aspects of the historical shift from viewing legal needs as an issue of state welfare to a neo-liberal mode of governance in this sphere of policy, and the divided responses to these changes. It also considers the results for legal representation in criminal matters and the legal needs of indigenous Australians.