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6 U.N.S.W.L.J. 163 (1983)
Legal Centres in Australia

handle is hein.journals/swales6 and id is 169 raw text is: Legal Centres

LEGAL CENTRES IN AUSTRALIA
BY
JOHN BASTEN*
REGINA GRAYCAR**
DAVID NEAL***
The 1970s saw the birth and growth in Australia of a network of legal centres
independent of the government and the private legal profession, a development that
has significantly altered the country's legal culture. This article examines the
establishment of the legal centres' movement against the changing political climate
of the 1970s, describes the centres' structures and operation and outlines the changes
they have brought about.
I. INTRODUCTION
The advent of a Labor government in 1972 heralded a period of great optimism.
Within days the reformist Whitlam government had terminated Australia's
involvement in the war in Vietnam; expatriate Australians returned from their self-
imposed exiles abroad, eager to participate in the new cultural milieu surrounding
the Labor government. The reformist mood permeated all walks of life. It came at
a time when an unprecedented wave of dissent had emerged in Australia. The
Vietnam war had polarised the community. There was growing concern with the
plight of disadvantaged groups, and calls for an increased role for government to
play in ensuring a more equitable share of what were considered Australia's
bountiful resources.' This concern had gone so far as to prompt the McMahon
Liberal government to establish a National Commission of Inquiry into Poverty in
1972.2
When Labor came to power, it increased the scope of the Poverty Inquiry and
appointed, amongst others, a Commissioner to deal exclusively with Law and
Poverty.3 A comprehensive health insurance system (Medibank),4 was estab-
lished (and subsequently dismantled), a national no-fault accident compensation
scheme,5 and a universal superannuation plan6 were mooted. The government
planned to decentralise the operations of government, actively pursuing a policy
aimed at regionalising services, not only for the purpose of making them more
efficient, but also to fulfil its stated aims of community participation in local
decision-making.7 New programmes, with names like the Area Improvement
Programme, Regional Employment Development Scheme and         Australian

1983

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