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Monday, 13 May 1985
Page: 1793

Senator JONES —Has the attention of the Minister representing the Attorney-General been drawn to a statement in last week's Courier-Mail by Sir Harry Gibbs of the High Court of Australia, drawing attention to the position of middle income people facing problems in relation to legal aid? Can the Government take any steps to try to alleviate the problem that exists or is there any way in which those people can receive some legal aid in view of the problems which they have and which were outlined by Sir Harry Gibbs?

Senator GARETH EVANS —The Government is aware of criticisms of the level of access to the legal aid system made by the Chief Justice of the High Court recently. The Government is fully aware of the problems of the legal aid system and the need to reduce its complexity and its cost and any unfairness inherent in the way it operates.

As regards Commonwealth funding of legal aid, a lengthy and detailed discussion paper was circulated last year setting out a proposed new system of and basis for Commonwealth funding, and the responses to that are now being considered. As to the delivery of legal aid, a departmental task force which has been working very busily over the last 12 months or more will soon be reporting on ways of achieving a greater degree of efficiency and uniformity. The suggestions made by Dr Jeremy Cooper in his report on legal services in Australia are also being examined in this respect.

I think it ought to be noted that the Chief Justice acknowledged that legal aid cannot be the whole answer. He said that the cost of providing public funds to give legal aid to all who need it would in fact be prohibitive. That has led the Government to look very carefully over the last couple of years at alternative forms of dispute resolution. We note also in this respect that the Law Council of Australia is examining the possibility of a legal insurance system. So there are a number of moves afoot to deal with matters to which Senator Jones adverts. I can assure him that we are acutely aware of the kinds of problems to which he draws our attention.