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In the past decade, Australia has experienced a fundamental restructuring and strengthening of the economy and a parallel strengthening of social justice and democratic rights. Australians have access to the fundamental social services of universal education and universal health care. We have a safety net of social security benefits to sustain us through periods of unemployment or illness. We also have the right to income support when we are unable to work due to age or disability. In key areas of public life, equality of opportunity is protected by law. With the help of community education campaigns, the message is getting across that discrimination, whether at work or in other areas of public life, is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Government policies across the whole spectrum of community life are oriented towards enabling all our citizens to participate fully in the life of the nation.

Australians also reap the benefits of living in a democratic society governed by the rule of law. Our rights and responsibilities as individuals and as members of a community are set out in laws that are upheld by the institutions of our justice system. Our laws are made by popularly elected governments and enforced by a high quality court system, which is independent of government and private influence, and open to public scrutiny. Government decisions about our rights and entitlements cannot be made arbitrarily and are subject to independent review. We cannot be harmed or deprived of our property, or otherwise injured by our fellow citizens, without recourse to the law, either as a means to prevent further harm or to seek redress. Our disputes can be resolved in an orderly way.

Our justice system, with the protection and stability it offers, is one of the most important pillars of our democratic society.

The justice system underlies the myriad of private and commercial transactions that take place in our daily lives. While we may not always come into direct contact with the justice system, we are empowered by the knowledge that the laws and institutions that form the basis of that system uphold the rights and enforce the responsibilities of every member of our community. The certainty of that foundation must not be compromised by the cost or complexity of the system placing it beyond the reach of any section of the community.

As an essential part of our lives, the justice system must be accessible. It must also respond and adapt to changes in our community to ensure that it remains relevant to contemporary life.

Our nation is built on concepts of fairness and justice. These ideals must be realities for all Australians, in access to justice as much as to other essentials of community life such as health care and education. The Justice Statement is directed to achieving that reality.

The Government is committed to bringing down barriers that restrict access to justice for all those who need it. Justice, and the means to enforce it, should be available equally across State boundaries, regardless of means, and without discrimination.

The Government's Justice Statement is a comprehensive national strategy for addressing problems with access to justice across the entire legal system.

We are making the laws that govern our society simpler and more easily available to ordinary Australians. We are pursuing with the States and Territories a far-reaching agenda of reform to the legal profession to make lawyers more competitive, more efficient, more responsive to the needs of their clients and more accountable for their actions. We are boosting legal aid and reforming the way in which legal aid is managed at a national level so that priorities are better aligned with community needs. We are providing low-cost easily accessible legal advice and assistance through new community legal centres, including a national network of women's legal centres. We are assisting courts and tribunals to re-orient their services and facilities towards the real needs of the people who come to them seeking justice. We are significantly expanding the availability of less formal and more accessible means of resolving disputes, such as mediation.

Even more fundamentally, we are addressing the problems that give rise to people's need for legal services. We are undertaking a major expansion of advice, education and support services. In particular, we are increasing and improving education, assistance and support on matters of marriage and the family, as well as the management of household and small business finances. We will also be helping local communities to deal with the ever-present problem of crime and address fears about crime.

Our approach is focused on helping people to avoid legal problems and ensuring that, when problems do arise, people have real access to a range of effective and user-friendly services and institutions that will help them to resolve those problems fairly. A fair and accessible legal system is a cornerstone of the Government's overall social justice strategy and a key feature of a just nation.


Australia has nine governments and, as a consequence, nine legal systems. Much of the administration of courts, the legal profession and legislation occurs in the domain of the States and Territories. The Commonwealth administers federal laws, operates tribunals in a wide range of federal areas of law, and is involved centrally in the funding of legal aid. There are a number of Commonwealth courts - the High Court, the Federal Court, the Family Court, and the Industrial Relations Court. The courts are constitutionally independent and have statutory autonomy in management matters.

While the Commonwealth does not have overriding power to remake the entire justice system, the Government recognises the leading role which it, as the national government, must play in initiating and promoting reform. The Government can and will reform those parts of the justice system that are within its jurisdiction. It will also encourage and stimulate reform in those parts of the justice system that are largely or entirely controlled either by State and Territory governments or by independent bodies such as the courts and legal aid commissions.


In 1993, the Attorney-General and the Minister for Justice commissioned the Access to Justice Advisory Committee to advise on the range of measures that the Commonwealth could take, either alone or in cooperation with other levels of government and legal institutions, to improve access to justice. The Committee's report constituted an important contribution to the reform process. It stimulated consideration of the means by which the community's access to our courts could be improved and the pressure for reform of the legal profession could be sustained.

Since May 1994, when the Committee delivered its recommendations, the Government has been considering and consulting extensively on the reforms that can be undertaken to improve access to justice. This Statement sets out the Government's response to the Committee's report, and a range of other reports on aspects of the justice system, including:

The Government's approach reflects the following key themes and beliefs: As the national government, the Commonwealth is adopting these themes in our approach to reform. First and foremost, we will be ensuring that our own house is in order. All Commonwealth laws and services that are provided directly by the Commonwealth will be subject to a process of scrutiny against access imperatives. Our aim is to ensure that when Australians deal with Commonwealth laws and Commonwealth legal and related institutions they deal with a fair and accessible system.

Such a system will be of direct benefit to the community. It will also serve as a model of best practice for those aspects of the national legal system that are controlled independently. The Commonwealth will be vigorous in working with the States and Territories to encourage reforms in their areas of responsibility and will be keen to assist Commonwealth courts to achieve appropriate reforms.

The Commonwealth will also assert its proper role and authority as the major provider of legal aid funding. It will ensure that community needs regarding legal assistance are addressed fairly and efficiently, and that legal aid policies and priorities are oriented properly to meet community expectations.

The Government is committed to making our justice system fairer and more accessible. The reforms in the Justice Statement reinforce our commitment to access to justice, and confirm our determination to ensure that access to justice is a reality for all Australians.

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