Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 14 November 1974
Page: 2394

Senator GREENWOOD (Victoria) -I think that the attitude which the AttorneyGeneral (Senator Murphy) has adopted in welcoming a discussion is certainly an approach which appeals to the Opposition. I think that the Attorney-General must acknowledge that there are real difficulties in finding time for such a discussion, having regard to the projected legislative program. It is important that these areas be canvassed because I think it is fairly clear from the attitude which Opposition speakers have adopted to the Estimates that there is no degree of satisfaction with the operation, current or likely, of the Australian Legal Aid Office. There is apprehension and fear as to the consequences of a widespread salaried legal office such as is comprehended by the Australian Legal Aid Office. There is a desire to place greater reliance upon schemes in which the profession has a controlling voice and to use salaried services only where there is a need which cannot be fulfilled by the existing profession under the State Government aided schemes.

It is important, I think, that this distinction be noted. Growing up at the present time, with a projected 60 offices, right throughout Australia is the Australian Legal Aid Office. People are being recruited for that Office at the present time. I imagine a number of younger lawyers are looking ahead to this sort of work as a career. Yet, it may be that in time a different sort of scheme will develop and there may not be the need for these salaried lawyers in the Public Service. Whether or not that is to be the case depends essentially on what type of legal aid scheme ultimately succeeds. The Government is obviously placing all its eggs in the basket of the Australian Legal Aid Office.

Senator Murphy - That is wrong.

Senator GREENWOOD - I am interested to hear the Attorney-General say 'That is wrong'. Maybe the picturesqueness of the phrase conveys an impression which he wants to correct in some way but there is little doubt, surely, that the Austraiian Legal Aid Office is the prime area on which the Government is relying for the development of what it sees as the appropriate legal aid provision in this country. I find it difficult to see how that proposition could be contested. But if that be the case the Opposition's view is different and I suspect that the legal profession's view also is different. It is only slowly that the legal profession is emerging to express its voice about this Legal Aid Office concept.

I have referred to what the president of the Victorian Law Institute, which is the second largest body of solicitors in Australia, has recently said about the Legal Aid Office. But there has also been a report, which has been circulated, by a sub-committee of the Law Council of

Australia, which has indicated very strong criticism of the present developments. This committee, I think, had a membership well versed in legal aid matters because, as I recall it, the South Australian Law Society has operated a legal aid scheme since the 1930s. The scheme has operated very well over the years and is regarded, I think, with satisfaction throughout South Australia.

Senator Everett - Was New South Wales represented on that sub-committee?

Senator GREENWOOD -No, I think not. I gather that the Law Council of Australia appointed this ad hoc committee, which was comprised of South Australian practitioners, to be a committee to report to the Council. The committee comprised Mr Cedric Thomson, who was the former chairman of the Legal Assistance Committee in South Australia, Mr R. G. Matheson, Q.C., who was the South Australian representative on the Law Council of Australia, Mr C. A. L. Abbott, who is the current chairman of the South Australian Legal Assistance Committee, Mr J. T. Gun, the deputy chairman of the South Australian Legal Assistance Committee, Mr D. W. Bollen, the chairman of the Common Law Committee of the Law Society of South Australia, and Mr J. J. Doyle, who was the chairman of the Committee for the Law Society Advisory Service. Those people delivered a quite extensive report, which I shall quote in part, in which they referred to the Turner committee.

Senator Murphy - Is there any purpose in your wasting the time of the Senate?

Senator GREENWOOD -The report states:

Although the Turner Committee has catalogued the types of assistance now provided by existing schemes, it has only referred to the deficiencies and inadequacies of existing schemes and, with respect, entirely ignored the not inconsiderable and vast voluntary and financial assistance already provided to the community in varying degrees by the legal profession through the existing schemes. The Turner Committee appears to have proceeded on the basis that the existing schemes are 'no good' and some entirely new structure must be established. This Committee is of the opinion that, from an economic and practical standpoint, attention should be first directed at improving and extending the present operating schemes.

I appreciate that one could take up time by referring to other aspects of the committee 's report.

Senator James McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The only thing you have not given us is the Sermon on the Mount.

Senator GREENWOOD -Well, I say again that if the Government wants to have only one point of view expressed, let it disclose that attitude to the country and do away with an Opposition altogether. But there are 2 points of view to be expressed on most questions. There is certainly a different point of view to be expressed on this question. I am simply referring to a report of a committee of some standing on this whole question of how legal aid should be provided, because it does indicate a completely different approach which could be adopted and which the committee prefers. We of the Opposition, without identifying in detail our attitude, would generally prefer the approach which is recommended by this committee. When we have something like $12m being allocated for legal aid this year, it is important that we should recognise the different approaches which can be adopted, with a view to ensuring that those who are interested know what the alternatives are. The only other part of the committee's report to which I refer states:

The Committee is of the opinion, that the views expressed at the Seventh Annual Conference of Law Societies, that legal aid should be provided on a co-operative basis by the profession and the State and Federal Governments working together, are correct. The example of the South Australian Law Society's Legal Assistance Scheme is positive proof that this is the proper means of the provision of legal aid, in that it is effective, economical, and comprehensive and is one which is actively supported by the legal profession.

I hope that weight can be given to what that committee recommends and that the effort be made to secure the co-operation of the legal profession in providing a scheme in which the profession has a voice. It is not so much the matter of who controls the scheme which is important; the fundamental question in regard to legal aid and advice is the quality of the service and the way in which a client gets from his solicitor what he pays for or what the State pays on his behalf for him to receive. I believe that we weaken the whole standing of the legal profession if we adopt the concept of a salaried service.

I should be grateful if the Attorney-General could refer to one other aspect of the Legal Aid Office. In the course of the hearings of Estimates Committee A I asked: Was any investigation undertaken to determine whether or not a particular area required a legal aid office before a legal aid office was established? I asked: Was there any assessment of the needs of an area and of the adequacy of the existing legal services in that area?

Senator Murphy - The answer is yes.

Senator GREENWOOD - I was told in the course of the hearings of the Estimates Committee that the answer was yes and I was told that I would be supplied with a statement indicating what work had been done. A statement is provided in the material, but it does not set out in any way what sort of an investigation took place. It simply makes the assertion that there are certain offices which have to be established, and it seems to be a matter of carrying through the proposal in the light of an ordained or pre-established proposition without any regard being had to the needs of the area.

Senator Murphy - Then I will write to you and supply it to you.

Senator GREENWOOD - I am grateful to the Attorney-General for that promise. One looks, for example, at the Canberra situation where a legal aid scheme is operating, with the AttorneyGeneral's Department co-operating with the legal profession in the Australian Capital Territory. The profession makes some contribution to the costs of legal aid. At the present time a legal aid office is being established in Canberra. As I understood the figures which were supplied, during the course of the last week of October, 2 lawyers were involved in the office in dealing with some 80 items of work. If you work it out on a daily basis, it means that there were 4 items of work per lawyer- maybe 3 interviews and one item of correspondence, because apparently there were no telephone inquiries during that week. In those circumstances there is an obvious question: Why was the legal aid office set up? What function is it serving?

I wonder also whether the Attorney-General could provide some information regarding an item which appeared in the Press this morning on the subject of legal aid. It referred to the appearances before the Royal Commission into Alleged Payments to Maritime Unions. The item states that the Seamen's Union is now represented by counsel sustained through legal aid. It reads: . . the Royal Commission was told the Seamen's Union, currently under investigation by the commission had been granted emergency legal aid by the Federal AttorneyGeneral, Senator Murphy.

I would be grateful if we could be told on what basis this legal aid was granted, and in what way is it to be justified. Further, with regard to an earlier question which I asked the AttorneyGeneral, I would like to know whether any application has been made by Mr Mundey regarding his appeal against the judgment which was given against him in the Supreme Court of New South Wales, or is there no change from the position which the Attorney-General indicated to me earlier.

Senator Murphy - There is no change.

Proposed expenditure passed.

Department of Customs and Excise

Proposed expenditure, $52,02 1 ,000.

Suggest corrections