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No end to the Howard government's lack of compassion



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Duncan Kerr m h r Federal Mem ber for Denison

Shadow M inister for Immigration

and Assistant to the Leader of the Opposition

on Multicultural Affairs

188 Collins St, Hobart 7000

Ph (03) 62 345 255 Fax (03) 62 238 560

GPO Box 32A Hobart Tas. 7001

Media release 22 NOVEMBER 1996

NO END TO THE HOWARD GOVERNMENT'S LACK OF COMPASSION

The Refugee Advice and Casework Service (RACS) of NSW will close its doors today, leaving genuine asylum seekers and refugees with uncertainty of legal representation.

More than 100 refugee and asylum seeker cases will have to rely on the goodwill of the solicitors to continue legal representation for no fee.

These are genuine cases. Labor supported urgent legislation introduced by the Government earlier this year to address any loopholes that could be used by non-genuine claimants. . As a signatory to the International Convention on Refugees, the Australia Government is required to provide legal advice to refugees.

The Immigration Minister, Philip Ruddock, is being deceptive to lay the blame at the feet of RACS for failing to negotiate with his Department. RACS first sounded the alarm to Mr Ruddock in July this year.

RACS made it clear that they faced certain closure if their funding needs were not addressed.

This non profit organisation employs four full time solicitors. With few resources, they handle around 150 cases per year at a cost of around $65 per hour to cover interpreter services, accommodation, travel, and all other costs.

RACS has also shown initiative by having a bank of around eight volunteer solicitors to supplement their efforts, and by negotiating with specialist lawyers to take on cases at the fixed nominal cost of $320 per case. J2

COMMONWEALTH PARLIAMENTARY LIBRARY Parliament House Canberra ACT 2600

Telephone (06) 277 2178

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The lawyers at RACS work for a much lower salary than their colleagues in most other areas of practice. The factor of goodwill which they put in should be recognised and encouraged by the Government.

Their costs increased largely due to the changed composition of the clients with more of them, needing interpreter services, these costs can make up half of the total cost of the case.

The increase they needed was a modest $20 000 per year.

It is clear that RACS NSW was far from unwilling to negotiate with the Minister or the Department. It is also clear that they have reached the limit to which they can stretch the rubber band.

They are unable to meet their basic running costs due to changed circumstances. They are not out to pay themselves a better salary.

The imminent closure of RACS will transfer the burden onto the already stretched resources of Legal Aid which has also suffered significant funding cuts.

Unless solicitors with goodwill take some of the workload free of charge, Legal Aid will have to deal with another 150 cases a year.

The Minister is being mean-spirited and shows no regard to the anxiety he is adding to the misery that these refugees and asylum seekers have suffered.

Mr Ruddock must act urgently and grant the necessary funding increase to ensure the valuable RACS service continues in NSW.

Further information: Duncan Kerr 0418 125 161 George Haddad 0419 009 214