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Where's the beef?

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The Hon. Laurie Brereton MP


No.35/97 1 July 1997


Acting Shadow Attorney-General, Laurie Brereton, today expressed his outrage that Federal Attorney-General Daryl Williams had failed to have any of the new legal aid agreements in place before 1 July 1997.

"Mr Williams has failed to sign a single new legal aid agreement with any of the States or Territories before the expiry of the old agreements at midnight on 30 June 1997," Mr Brereton said.

"Only today has he signed the first of the new agreements with Queensland and he is yet to sign any final agreement with any of the other States and Territories. Indeed, in the case of Western Australia he has not even signed an in-principle agreement"

"And whilst Mr Williams says that he expects these agreements to be finalised shortly, I am told that some of these new agreements are unlikely to be put in place for at least another month."

"Mr Williams has had more than a year to get these agreements signed. His failure to do so shows that he is totally incompetent. He should be sacked."

"As recently as 19 June 1997, Mr Williams was claiming in the Parliament that all would be well. In debate on the Appropriations Bills he said:

"[The Member for Banks (Mr Melham)] has asserted that legal aid is in crisis, let me assure him that it is not and let me assure him that the expectation of the government is that there will be arrangements in place on 1 July with all jurisdictions which will enable a delivery by legal aid commissions of state and federal funds for rlegal aid in each jurisdiction."

"And today he has claimed that it is Business As Usual. Well, Mr Williams, if Business as Usual means that: • hundreds of thousands of ordinary Australians, in particular those suffering from some form of disadvantage, will be denied access to our justice system; • criminals will be able to walk free because there won't be enough money to try them; • people applying for legal aid for 'Commonwealth matters' won't be able to get their

applications approved because even you don't know what a 'Commonwealth matter' is yet; and • we will have at least five different systems for administering legal aid (as a result of differing State and Commonwealth funding arrangements); then you are not worthy of the title of the First Law Officer of the Commonwealth."

Contact: Simon Banks Ph: (06) 277 3388 (bh) or 0419 63 85 87 (m) Fax: (06) 277 3062