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An end to our national legal aid system?



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No.3/97

6'February 1997

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SENATOR THE HON NICK BOLKUS SHADOW ATTORNEY GENERAL SHADOW MINISTER FOR JUSTICE LABOR SENATOR FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA

MEDIA RELEASE

AN END TO OUR NATIONAL LEGAL AID SYSTEM?

"Today's announcement by New South Wales Attorney-General, Mr Jeff Shaw, that his State may go it alone on legal aid is the first formal step in the demise of Australia's national legal aid system," Shadow Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, Senator Nick Bolkus said today.

The first truly national legal aid system was established in 1973 by the then Labor Attorney-General Lionel Murphy.

"But the fault for this is not Mr Shaw's," Senator Bolkus said. "It is the Federal Attorney-General, Mr Williams, who abandoned the National Legal Aid Agreement without any notice or consultation in June last year. It was Mr Williams who announced cuts of $120 million from our legal aid system without warning anyone. It was Mr Williams who based those cuts

on faulty figures - an admission he himself has made."

"And it was Mr Williams' department which admitted last week that they had made no preparations for the establishment of a Commonwealth legal aid System. As a result, if New South Wales carries out its threat, it is highly unlikely that the Commonwealth will be in a position to administer any legal aid applications for matters arising under Commonwealth law

after 1 July this year."

"And New South Wales is not alone - Queensland, South Australia and the ACT are all likely to follow suit."

"If the Commonwealth, the States and Territories have separate legal aid offices then there will be additional cost and unnecessary duplication of services."

"You will have the ridiculous situation where, for example, a women who is the subject of domestic violence will have to go to the State legal aid commission to get a domestic violence protection order but will have to go to the Commonwealth commission if she wants to get a divorce or to change access and custody arrangements in relation to her children."

"The bungling and incompetence of this Attorney must stop."

"Once again I implore the Attorney to accept my offer of a moratorium. It is not too late to stop these cuts now. But if New South Wales or any of the other States or Territories sets up its own legal aid, system - it will be!"

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