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Thursday, 13 October 1983
Page: 1709


Mr DUFFY (Minister for Communications)(10.56) —I will respond briefly to the honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Spender). The fact that the Opposition in the Senate did not oppose this Bill has been reflected in what the honourable member for North Sydney said. He dealt with the increase in payouts for legal aid from $14.69m in 1979-80 to $32.426m in 1982-83 and, most significantly, reiterated what the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) said in respect of this Bill, that over 60 per cent of that $32.426m was going to family law matters. One has to agree with the honourable member that unfortunately it appears to be an undeniable fact that there is an upward trend in the family law area.

One matter which should be referred to is the concern expressed by the honourable member for North Sydney in relation to the natural tendency of some members of the profession, as he put it, not to be as careful in dealing with Commonwealth money. He referred to what I think he designated as a specialised and subsidised jurisdiction which may not work as efficiently as it should. That may or may not be so. In fairness to the honourable member, I must say that he referred to the matter to which I am about to refer. While this Bill, as was indicated by the Attorney-General, will enable the Commonwealth to restrain the growth of legally aided family law expenditure, it should not be thought that it represents the sole response to the burdens placed on the legal aid budget. Since assuming office the Attorney-General has indicated-the honourable member for North Sydney referred to this-a general review of legal aid and the role of the Commonwealth in the delivery of legal aid services. Following the Budget he announced that the Government had approved the establishment of a small legal aid task force to explore cost effective methods of legal aid delivery throughout the country. Until that task force has had the opportunity of looking at the most cost effective method of delivering legal aid, some of the assumptions that all of us may make could well be not justified. There is considerable significance in the work to be carried out by that task force, as the honourable member for North Sydney acknowledged.

Another question to be addressed and which has been adverted to is whether all the family law cases which currently receive legal aid funding really require lawyers and legal advice for their resolution or whether there is a more cost effective method of resolving family law disputes. That is the sort of matter that should be examined. In seeking answers to the question, the Attorney- General again has put in train an examination of the various options available for possible alternative advice and dispute resolution facilities. Also, of course, he has asked the Family Law Council and the Commonwealth Legal Aid Council to assist in the examination. Therefore, it appears that in broad thrust , if not in detail, the concerns of the Government are shared by the Opposition. Having regard to the matters which the Attorney-General has directed be examined -I refer to the task force on cost effectiveness and the possibility of adopting alternative methods of addressing this problem-I think everyone hopes for a resolution of many of the grave problems which have been outlined in the course of discussion.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.