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Thursday, 14 November 1974
Page: 2393


Senator MURPHY (New South WalesAttorneyGeneral) -The matter of legal aid is obviously one of very great complexity. I am indebted to honourable senators for the contributions they have made. I indicate that there are some misconceptions. For example, a few moments ago Senator Chaney suggested that the Australian Legal Aid Office might be acting for persons who are opposed to one another. Unless there were some very exceptional circumstances it would not happen, for the very reason he gave. It would be quite unsatisfactory. There may be some special cases where it could happen but I think that in general the matter would be referred out to practitioners. The $3.7m that has been referred to is already being spent in anticipation, I think, of the Budget being accepted by the Parliament. It is flowing out already to the private practitioners.

I should indicate that the view which I am taking is not shared by all members of the Government. I was asked the other day why moneys were not being paid to local government. My colleague, the Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren), said that the moneys will not be paid to local government until the Budget is passed by this Parliament or the Government is given an indication that it will be passed. The longer delays occur in the passage of the Appropriation Bills the longer it will be before local governments receive the grants which the Opposition have requested should be made without delay. I assure honourable senators that the length of delays in this place is not without its consequences to the community.


Senator Greenwood - This is only the second day the Bill has been in the Senate.


Senator MURPHY - The estimates have been discussed in the Estimates Committee. I should indicate again to the Senate that during the Committee discussions I invited the members of the Estimates Committee- it was a general invitationwho required any information on any matters to inform my office either by telephone or by note and I would see that the information would be made available to the Committee. No member of the Committee availed themselves of that o ffer then or since.

The question of legal aid is obviously very important. I would like to have a discussion in some depth on it. I do not think it is appropriate to have such a discussion today. I do not want to avoid a discussion on the question of legal aid. There have been lengthy discussions with the various representatives of the profession. I would like to deal with the matter more closely. I have the feeling that if we start to engage upon a discussion on legal aid now it will not be possible for me to deal with it in an adequate manner. I am prepared to make a statement to the Senate before the end of the year, if necessary, and I am prepared to adopt the suggestion made by the Estimates Committee. Because of the possibilities pointed out by the Estimates Committee, with which I would agree, of duplication, inefficiencies and the waste that unco-ordinated development might produce, I think a full scale Government sponsored inquiry into the services providing legal aid is desirable. I should point out that the Legal Aid Review Committee has been considering the topic of legal aid for more than 12 months. That Committee has done a very valuable service. Members of that Committee were present when I discussed the various aspects of legal aid with the representatives of all the professions a month ago at the Parkroyal Motel in Canberra.

In addition Professor Sackville has been conducting an inquiry into this topic in relation to poverty generally in Australia. He has made a very valuable report. I am not sure whether it has been released but I have read it. There is no doubt that honourable senators who have spoken on this matter would have to revise some of their views on the adequacy of the State legal aid systems. I think that it is still not sufficiently understood that the State legal aid systems were satisfactory and were in no way coping with the problem of insufficient legal aid. The advice given to me is that this would not have been met by the provision of more money through those systems. That was not the answer at all. There were needs in a large area of legal aid which were not being met and which would not have been met simply by an increase in the subsidy- if one can call it that- to existing legal aid schemes.

These are matters which ought to be investigated in detail. I do not think it is appropriate for me to deal with them in some passing way here. I think the opportunity ought to be given to the Senate, if it so wishes, to discuss legal aid in some depth. In any event, I propose to adopt the recommendation of the Committee. If there is an opportunity to have a full scale discussion on this matter in the Senate before the end of the year we will do so. But as I stand here I think that in view of the legislative program it will not be possible to have such a discussion. If some means can be found by which we can discuss legal aid I will be only too anxious to assist. However, discussions are continuing with the profession in various ways and also with the States. I am only too anxious to have more discussions with the profession and the whole of the Senate so that we can ensure that there is a proper system of legal aid. I am quite sure that if we spent some time in eliciting the facts of the matter a lot of the differences of opinion may disappear. As in many other areas, it is the lack of knowledge of the facts and the real problems that leads to the difficulties in reaching a decision or to differences of opinion. I think that the report of Professor Sackville and some of the other conclusions which have been reached about the factual situation will help to clear away many misapprehensions. Together, we may be able to evolve a reasonably satisfactory system of legal aid.







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