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Thursday, 18 November 1976
Page: 2843

Mr McLEAN (PERTH, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - My question is directed to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. Is the Minister aware that the principal legal officer of the Perth office of the Aboriginal Legal Service has recently stated that the Service has been required to curtail its development program substantially, because of limited financial resources? To what extent, if any, have these limitations impaired the quality of Aboriginal legal services in Perth, in other parts of Western Australia and throughout Australia? Can the Minister inform the House of the present position regarding funding of the Aboriginal legal service? Finally, can the Minister assure the House that the status of the Aboriginal Legal Service in Western Australia and in other States will not be reduced with the establishment of the proposed State legal aid commissions?

Mr VINER (STIRLING, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs) - I can provide the honourable gentleman with the information he requires. The relationship of Aboriginal legal aid to the legal aid commissions which my colleague, the AttorneyGeneral, proposes to set up in the various States is quite clear. He has made it clear, and it is the Government's policy, that Aboriginal legal aid will maintain its independence. The necessity for that has been recognised by a great many people who have studied the deficiencies in the provision of legal aid to Aborigines in the past.

For example, Professor Sackville acknowledged in his study of law and poverty the necessity for a special service to satisfy Aboriginal needs.

I point out for the honourable member's information that in fact there will be an increase in funding for the Western Australian service this year. The amount provided will be roughly $590,000, as against the $540,000 provided last year. As well as that there is some carryover from last year's funds. That will enable the service either to expand its existing setup or to establish new offices in some of the remoter parts of Western Australia. I might add that the increase for Western Australia has been as a result of a rearrangement of funding as between the different services throughout Australia. Overall, the same amount of funds will be provided this year as was expended last year- $3,746,000. For the information of honourable members, might I give some short statistics. Based on last year's -

Mr SPEAKER - I draw the attention of the Minister to the fact that he is answering just the fourth question asked in 20 minutes. I am not singling out the Minister in particular, but at that rate the number of opportunities to ask questions that will be available to back bench members of the House will be very small. Is the Minister asking for leave to incorporate a table in Hansard?

Mr VINER - No, Mr Speaker. I was just going to give 2 figures, if I might, and then conclude. On the basis of last year's performance, approximately 53 000 cases were handled by Aboriginal legal aid services throughout Australia at an average cost of $70 a case.

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