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Wednesday, 8 December 1976

Mr ELLICOTT (WENTWORTH, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Attorney-General) - As I have indicated before in this House, the discussions with the States are continuing. Those discussions are designed to preserve the position of the staff involved. No final arrangements have been reached with the State of Western Australia in relation to either the form of the legislation or the conditions and terms upon which staff would be taken over by the State of Western Australia. Discussions are going on with that State and with the State of South Australia. I understand that some discussions will be held later this week with the State of Queensland in relation to this matter. I am going along steadily, pursuing the objective which I indicated the Government had adopted earlier this year- that is, to set up an independent commission in each State. During the discussions officers of my Department will continue to attempt to obtain conditions which will preserve the situation of staff. The staff are being consulted in the course of those discussions and I hope that any final arrangements that are arrived at will succeed in preserving their position.

Some people seem to believe that when the officers go across they will remain Commonwealth public servants. It has always been clear that these commissions will be independent of government and that they will have staff of their own. One of the basic problems with the Australian Legal Aid Office at the moment is that the officers are officers of my Department and on occasions I am in the difficult situation where I am the prosecutor in relation to an applicant for legal aid and at the same time my officers are appearing for him. That is a most undesirable position. I hope that the honourable member for Grayndler would agree with me that it is undesirable and that therefore the officers of the legal aid commissions should be independent of government. It was never my view that the officers would or could remain Commonwealth public servants. However, their terms and conditions of work and their salary structure should be no less favourable than they are at present.

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