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Thursday, 9 May 1985
Page: 1675

Senator ROBERT RAY(5.16) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

The report goes into detail of the Administration of the Legal Aid Council and raises some of the areas of activity in which it has been involved. I do not think the general area of legal aid has yet been resolved satisfactorily in this country. Many problems are involved in it. In many cases people are taken to court, prosecuted and found innocent and still face massive legal fees. That is a punishment of those people, people who have been found not guilty, that I think is unwarranted. At times there are also problems with the time delays in payment of legal aid. But I think a more important sort of problem arose yesterday. In some circumstances, someone who is technically bankrupt nevertheless apparently may be qualified for legal aid, notwithstanding the fact that that individual may happen to be driving around the country in a Rolls Royce and that that individual's spouse may be driving around the country in a Mercedes sports car. They may happen to be living in a home worth $1m and have access to and constant use of a yacht worth $2.5m, yet apparently it is quite all right for the Federal Court to ask the Attorney-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) to reconsider their position concerning legal aid.

I understand that some legal and technical arguments were involved in the case to which I refer and I understand that the Federal Court did not direct the government to grant legal aid; nevertheless, I suggest that it is a bit anomalous that $400,000 or $500,000 could be paid out to a technical bankrupt who seems to have enormous visible means of support. It is not good enough to say that that sum happens to be in the name of the person's spouse. If we are to make such a decision on legal aid we should look beyond that as to when the assets were transferred and in what manner. The only gratifying aspect of this process in some other cases is that people, knowing that they are to be prosecuted, transfer enormous assets to their spouses and occasionally a spouse decides to leave with all the assets. All I can say is that that is my idea of natural justice.

Question resolved in the affirmative.