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Wednesday, 5 December 1973
Page: 2441


Senator KANE (NEW SOUTH WALES) - My question is directed to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. Is the Minister aware of a report in today's 'Australian' about a 15-year old Aboriginal boy in Western Australia who appeared unrepresented in the Supreme Court and the District Court yesterday? Without prejudicing the issue, will the Minister give the Senate a report from his Department on the circumstances of this case and what action, if any, the Minister can take to prevent any recurrence which, on the face of it, would seem to go against our system of justice?


Senator CAVANAGH -I have not seen the report and I know nothing about the case. I am surprised that he was unrepresented. Government policy, as announced in the policy speech, is that no Aborigine need appear in court without counsel. It is difficult to get this across to the Aboriginal people. We have established legal aid services in all capital cities, extending out to country areas where Aborigines are assembled, for the purpose of trying to convey this advice to Aborigines. If the case has not been finalised I shall make some provision to see that legal aid is made available.


Senator Byrne - I think that under Queensland law the Protector of Aborigines and the Inspector of Police usually have to be present at the hearing.


Senator CAVANAGH -I know that in Queensland there are laws governing Aboriginal court cases. There is no need for any Aboriginal who has been charged to appear in court without counsel. Some Aborigines do so because they are unacquainted with the service that we provide and we find difficulty in informing them of the service. I think that anyone who knows Aborigines can convey it to them. Through a publicity campaign conducted by field officers employed by the Aboriginal legal service we are having it more widely accepted, and I believe that in the near future Senator Murphy's department will extend the legal aid which may be provided for Aborigines.


Senator MURPHY -Mr President,may I comment?


The PRESIDENT - Yes.


Senator MURPHY -If I may supplement Senator Cavanagh 's answer, the point raised is of very great importance. I think that probably one answer may be to issue some advice to the courts so that a court itself would take action and advise the person concerned. I am surprised that that would not be done on the initiative of whoever was the presiding officer. I will see that that message is conveyed and that at least the courts are requested to do that.







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