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Wednesday, 14 October 1964

Senator BREEN (Victoria) .- I should like to refer to Division No. 126 - Legal Service Bureaux - which was mentioned by Senator Wright. Honorable senators on both sides of the chamber have stated that legal aid should be available to people who are unable to pay the usual legal costs. Where are these Legal Service Bureaux situated? Do they in fact act only for returned soldiers or in repatriation matters? A step has been taken in the last 1 2 months by the Law Institute of Victoria to set up a panel of legal men.

Sitting suspended from 5.45 to 8 p.m.

Senator BREEN - Before the suspension I had been inquiring of the Minister regarding the services rendered by the Legal Service Bureaux. I also had referred to the help that was given to people who were not able to pay full legal costs. I understand that criticism has been voiced here and in another place regarding the accessibility of legal help rendered by members of the legal profession. I should like to inform the Senate that in Victoria the Law Institute set up a committee of four which undertakes voluntary legal aid. The committee is formed of two representatives of the Law Institute and two members nominated by the Victorian Bar Council, that is, the barristers' council. These people meet once a week and will render help to anyone who can be proved to have need of their services. The Legal Aid Act was passed at the beginning of this year and the committee came into operation on 14th April. Since that date, it has received 964 applications and dealt with 225 cases. Of those cases, 20 were in regard to divorce and 59 were in regard to maintenance. So in Victoria, at any rate, Sir, legal aid is available, given voluntarily by the legal profession and also through the Public Solicitor under the Poor Persons Legal Assistance Act of 1958.

I should like to turn now to Division No. 115, subdivision 4, item 02 - Matrimonial Causes Act - Grants to approved marriage guidance organisations. 1 notice with very great thankfulness that the grant is to be increased by £1 1,000, the appropriation last year having been £62,000 and the proposed appropriation for 1964-65 being £73,000. Approved marriage guidance councils in all States are doing excellent work. This extra assistance will enable them to expand their work. In Victoria there are a few provincial cities where people have banded together with the purpose of setting up marriage guidance councils. The increased grant will enable this work to be developed in Victoria. I know that in Townsville there is a branch of the Brisbane marriage guidance council. There is no need for me to point out that the work of marriage guidance councils has been tremendously helped by the grants that have been made by the Commonwealth Government over the past few years.

This grant, of course, Sir, is for counselling services only. I should like to put to the Minister that perhaps at some stage consideration could be given to help for the preventive side of this work, the educational programmes that are being undertaken by all States. They have been a very great feature of the work in Victoria, and all age groups have been assisted to realise the responsibilities of marriage and the problems with which young people are beset at the beginning of their married life. They receive excellent help, also, in facing up to the responsibilities and problems that arise as children grow into the difficult age of adolescence.

I was interested and very alarmed indeed to read comments made by a psychiatrist who has just recently returned to Melbourne. He says that one in every ten persons in Australia is emotionally distressed and this distress affects one in every three families; that a child born in Melbourne or any other Australian city has ten times more chance of spending part of its life in a mental hospital than at university. That is a very alarming state of affairs indeed, lt makes us realise that anything that can be done to preserve the mental health of the community must be undertaken. This work of the marriage guidance councils in preparing people for marriage and assisting th: m afterwards in the various stages of married life is a means of achieving stability of family life - emotional stability, which after all is tremendously important for the marriage partners and for the children who in turn will marry and have either emotionally disturbed homes or stable homes. It is only through establishing stability in family life that we can develop our country to the best possible standards. So I should like to suggest that perhaps the Minister might, when thinking of the Estimates for next year, give some consideration to the very valuable work of education being carried out by the marriage guidance councils.

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