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Wednesday, 27 November 1996
Page: 6151

Senator BROWN(4.05 p.m.) —I support the previous speakers on this side of the chamber on this matter. It is fundamental in a functioning democracy that the law be available to all persons. We know that that is not the case in Australia or anywhere else in the world. The law is already too much the privilege of those people who have money. As an environmentalist, I know this only too well by the ability of the corporate sector to bring in QCs and threaten, they think hopefully into silence, community activists. I have myself been told by North Broken Hill, for example, that everything said by the Wilderness Society was being vetted by four QCs. There is no way that the Wilderness Society or the average community group which is working in the field of social justice or community welfare can match the ability of the corporate sector to—

Senator Abetz —You get your legal aid tax deductible, don't you?

Senator BROWN —The honourable senator opposite talks about tax deductibility. Every time these big corporations employ QCs, be it on average fees or on $1,000, $2,000 or $3,000 per day, they make it tax deductible. Taxpayers pay for what the corporate sector is using in forgone taxes. He talks about community groups. On this occasion, the corporate sector gets the tax breaks for using legal services, forgoes paying taxes into the exchequer and, therefore, cheats the average taxpayer in our community. That comment has made Senator Abetz pick up the phone.

I want to carry further the argument I was just putting. The law is available to the privileged sections of our community as it is. The average person finds the courts and legal services very difficult to approach, let alone to feel confident about using. Australian legal aid services were designed and have grown to help overcome those barriers. In particular, they give legal service to those people who are unable to afford it and who cannot, like the corporate sector, take QCs off the coat rack and employ them for advice on any matter. What is happening in the service of the big money at the big end of town is that the coalition has decided it will rake away the paltry amount that tries to balance this imbalance in the legal services that are available to Australians. (Time expired)