Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 11 December 2013
Page: 1449

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services


Senator PERIS (Northern Territory) (14:08): My question is to the Attorney-General, Senator Brandis. I refer to Mr Abbott's pre-election promise that he would be the Prime Minister for Aboriginal affairs. Why has the government cut $42 million from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandDeputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council, Minister for Arts and Attorney-General) (14:08): Thank you, Senator Peris, for your question. The Australian government believes that in a resource constrained environment the legal aid dollar should be spent where it is most needed. In particular we believe that funding should be focused on front-line legal aid services. One of the misgivings that we had about the approach of the former Labor government was that so much of the legal aid dollar was spent not on front-line legal services but on policy and advocacy work, which, while it may have been worthwhile in itself, meant that there were resources devoted to expenditure other than expenditure on casework.

As a result of the legacy of debt which we have inherited from the previous government, an unprecedented legacy of debt, economies have to be found. Those economies will have to be found right across government. But, in making those economies within the Attorney-General's portfolio, my concern is to ensure that the legal aid dollar is focused on where it is most needed—that is, on front-line legal services. That applies in relation to Indigenous legal aid services as to all other legal aid services.


Senator PERIS (Northern Territory) (14:10): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the Attorney-General confirm that the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency and the Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service are among the organisations that have had their budgets cut? Does the Attorney-General understand that, without access to legal representation, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are more likely to go to jail and for longer?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandDeputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council, Minister for Arts and Attorney-General) (14:11): I can assure the honourable senator that, as a result of the economies that it is necessary to find in consequence of the more than $400 billion of debt we inherited from the Labor Party, economies in the access-to-justice area, including Indigenous access to justice, will be delivered so as not to affect the availability of front-line legal services where they are most needed.


Senator PERIS (Northern Territory) (14:11): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I refer to the pledge from the government adviser Mr Warren Mundine that the cut would be reversed. Why has the government failed to act on Mr Mundine's pledge?

Senator Cameron: Because they are penny-pinching—

The PRESIDENT: No. Minister, you are entitled to be heard in silence.




Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandDeputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council, Minister for Arts and Attorney-General) (14:12): It is indeed necessary to find economies, as I have said. I overheard an interjection from Senator Doug Cameron that accused the government of penny-pinching. Senator Cameron is a member of a party that did not pinch pennies but pinched thousands and billions of dollars from the Australian economy, so please, Senator Doug Cameron, don't come crying your crocodile tears to us.

Senator Moore: Mr President, I raise a point of order about relevance. The specific question was about advice from the government adviser Mr Mundine, so if the minister could return to that it would be useful.

The PRESIDENT: Order! The minister still has 37 seconds remaining to address the question. The minister is in order at this stage.

Senator BRANDIS: When the coalition government was elected and inherited public debt exceeding $400 billion, it was necessary to find economies across the whole of government. We make no secret about that. The MYEFO will be released on Tuesday, and it will include—

Senator Moore: Again, Mr President, I raise a point of order. I have allowed more of the time to go past and yet again the answer has not referred to the question that was asked.

The PRESIDENT: Order! The minister has 18 seconds remaining. I draw the minister's attention to the question.

Senator BRANDIS: That is why economies are necessary across the whole of government. Insofar as those economies will affect the legal aid dollar, including Indigenous justice, we will structure them so that they do not affect front-line legal services.