Access to Justice: Austlii plea for funds

Austlii is an amazing web-based legal resource, which makes a wide range of Australian legal materials available on the internet to all, free of charge. It is run by UNSW and UTS. Were it not for Austlii, many of these materials (and the capacity to search across the whole range of them) would only be accessible to subscribers to the decidedly expensive commercial on-line services, or to those with access to a law library and skills to access the material, to the extent that it is even available in this way.  Access to the law is no guarantee to access to justice, but lack of access to law is a pretty powerful obstacle.

Austlii is now facing a funding crisis and is making an urgent call for donations.

Legal Eagle has blogged about this, and I have commented there.  The problem is that Austlii is a public good.  Although some people get more direct benefit out of it than others, a “user donates” model of funding still leaves the non-donors as free-loaders. It’s a bit like taking the first steps to reduce carbon dioxide emissions: why would anyone want to do it?

I would like the Government to meet the costs of this sort of service precisely because it is a public service.  I’m the sort of person who, faced with a charity collector, has the instinctive self-protective reaction: “I gave at the office – the tax office.”    I don’t really agree that lawyers or even business users are the only “stakeholders” who ought to tip in, any more than doctors should contribute on our behalf to Medicare, or firemen make a special contribution to fund fire insurance.  

All the same, I would not complain if, on an ongoing basis, I ended up paying a modest amount ($20 per year per lawyer has been suggested as being sufficient) provided that every other similar stakeholder was making the same contribution.  But that’s a big proviso, isn’t it?

As the link I have provided above states:

To balance its budget in 2007 AustLII needs to raise an additional $400,000. Otherwise there will be a reduction in AustLII services commencing in mid-2007.

OK.  It’s a crisis.  Donations are taxable so, if you are a taxpayer and make a donation of $2 or more by 30 June 2007, you will get some of that money back at your marginal tax rate when you put in your 2006-7 tax return.  I am prepared to make a donation, but I want to encourage others to make one, so this is what I am going to do. 

I shall make an initial donation of $50, but to any one who makes a donation in the next 3 weeks (sorry, donations already made don’t count) and lets me know, I shall match half that donation, up to a maximum of $25 (of my money, that is) per donation, and $150 in all (in addition to my initial $50).  It’s not much, but if the offer is fully subscribed and everyone actually makes the donation that they tell me they are making, that will add up to $500.  The maximum cost to me (after tax) will be about $120; if you made a donation of $20, assuming that you were on a 30% marginal tax rate (for example) it would cost you $14, but you will be able to feel that you have caused AUSTLII to receive $30.  What a bargain!  There could even be a multiplier effect if other people take the same approach: a sort of reverse money tree.

 So, how about it?

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