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Wednesday, 23 August 1972
Page: 309

Senator Dame NANCY BUTTFIELD - 1 preface my question, which is directed to the Attorney-General, by saying that yesterday, by way of interjection when I asked a question, it was suggested that I was looking to the left. I should like to think that this question indicates that we on this side of the chamber make it a practice to look to the left, the right and the centre. Will the Attorney-General agree that legal justice is more readily available for the upper income sector of the community than it is for the lower income sector? Is this made possible because lawyers fees and charges are at least as high as medical fees and charges but, there being no government scheme of legal aid comparable with the national health scheme, very tew people or industries can afford litigation even if it is merely to prove their innocence and honour? Will the Attorney-General investigate the possibility of initiating a Commonwealthwide legal aid scheme to assist no matter who to obtain justice and not just have justice seem to be done?

Senator GREENWOOD - I am sure that the honourable senator appreciates that people have more frequent recourse to their doctors than they do to their lawyers. I do not think it is altogether appropriate to equate the need in the legal area to something approaching a national health scheme, but 1 do believe that justice should be available to everybody and that it should not be denied because of lack of means to assert rights before the courts. The question of whether legal aid should be made available is essentially a matter for the State governments because there is no head of Commonwealth power which may be utilised in the broad sense to permit a system of legal aid. I know that members of the legal profession in each State have co-operated to provide a comprehensive scheme of legal aid which from time to time requires adjustment, but that legal aid scheme is there and is available largely because of the voluntary services of the legal profession.

In the Australian Capital Territory, where the Commonwealth Government does have a responsibility, there was introduced earlier this year a legal aid scheme which, I think, is as good a legal aid scheme as any scheme in the Commonwealth. It also depends on the very willing co-operation of members of the legal profession. I recently had discussions with the Northern Territory Law Society and there is to be a discussion with that body as to some legal aid scheme for the Northern Territory. Of course, it should be appreciated that within the area of conciliation and arbitration there is a very generous scheme of legal aid to enable trade union members to assert their rights either against executives of the union who they allege are not doing their duty according to the rules or to ensure that the rules are observed. That is an avenue which has been usefully explored and utilised by unionists in recent times. I appreciate the honourable senator's interest. I think the position is far better throughout the country than she would give the impression by the nature of her question.

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