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Wednesday, 14 October 1964

Senator ORMONDE (New South Wales) . - I address my remarks to Division No. 115 - Administrative. I should like the Minister for Works (Senator Gorton) to indicate whether the Government has any plans to assist public spirited citizens who organise themselves into groups such as the Australian Consumers Council. My examination of the situation leads me to believe that this Government does nothing to assist the consumers. This afternoon Senator O'Byrne told us about the exploitation of consumers in Hobart, with one of the big chain stores offering light weight in certain packages and duplicating certain other packages. I have before me the final report of the Committee on Consumer Protection in England. The work of that Committee was almost completely financed by the United Kingdom Government. In the United States of America there is an organisation known as the Consumers Advisory Council which has to do with the co-ordinating of activities to give consumers some sort of protection and which provides the machinery for consumers to develop their own protection against exploitation. That is apart altogether from the normal legislation which is designed to afford protection but which is evaded by those smart people in the community who continually exploit consumers.

In the Labour world we used to have the slogan " Workers of the world unite ". It could well be replaced by the slogan " Consumers of the world unite ". Yesterday Mr. Whitlam, when addressing the Federal Labour Women's Conference, dealt very strongly with consumers' rights. I was very impressed by the case he advanced, which received a good run in the newspapers today. There seems to be developing a strong public belief that this Government should give a lead in the matter. Even if the Government is experiencing difficulty in preparing legislation to control monopolies, it ought not to find any difficulty in assisting the citizens of Australia who want to do something for themselves to fight exploitation by drug manufacturers, cosmetic manufacturers and the manufacturers of soaps and powders which are sold under various names. The consumers need some protection, and the Government ought to give it to them. I should like the Minister to give me his views on this matter.

I refer now to the administration of the divorce legislation. Recently I asked the Minister whether the Government was trying to reduce the high cost of divorce proceedings. I reminded him that a judge of the Divorce1 Court of New South Wales had drawn attention to the ever increasing cost of divorce. I might be quite wrong in my recollection, but it is my understanding that one of the purposes of the marriage and divorce legislation that was passed a couple of years ago was to reduce costs. In his reply, the Minister told me what the Government had been doing and then used words to the effect that it was not the Government's intention to cheapen or make easier the obtaining of a divorce. I gained the impression from the Minister's answer that regarding divorce costs, the rich were better off than the poor and that the Government was not necessarily eager to cheapen the cost of divorce to such an extent that divorce would be popularised or, if I may use another phrase, to the extent that it would be easier for the poorer sections of the community to get a divorce. Can the Minister develop his answer any further? I should like to think that that is not his view.

I come now to legal aid bureaux. My experience has been that when people go to these organisations for aid they feel that they are getting second class treatment. I have had quite a lot to do in helping people who have become involved with legal troubles and I have sent them to the legal aid bureaux. There they have lined up with others and sat on a form to await their turn. By the time they have gone through the process of getting this form of government assistance - I think this applies to all legal aid bureaux - they feel that they have had enough and that from the moment they first received advice right up to the court proceedings, if such proceedings have been instituted, they have received only second class treatment. I ask the Minister whether there is any justification for that belief, which is rather general. 1 was interested to hear Senator Wright criticise the system this afternoon. I think he had in mind that other means were available whereby a better legal service could be given to the poorer sections of the community. Will the Minister tell me whether the Government has any views about changing or improving the system in the interests of people who come up against high legal costs?

I note that at page 53 of the AuditorGeneral's report for the year ended 30th June 1964 the following statement appears -

During 1963-64, certain revenue receipts were accounted for incorrectly under - Court Reporting Branch; Fees, fines and costs of court; and Miscellaneous.

Will the Minister give me an explanation of that statement?

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