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Wednesday, 12 December 1973
Page: 2698

Senator DURACK (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) -I refer the AttorneyGeneral to advertisements appearing in the daily Press for legal officers to join legal service bureaus which are apparently intended by the Attorney-General to be set up to give advice and assistance to people in need and which are commonly known nowadays as storefront lawyer offices. Is this scheme provided for in the present Budget? What is the criterion of need? What form of assistance is to be given, in addition to advice? How does this policy fit in with the legal aid schemes which are already in existence in the various States and which are being funded by this Government under the present Budget to the extent of $2m?

Senator MURPHY -The legal service bureaus are being absorbed into an Australian legal aid office. It is intended that the Australian legal aid office give free legal advice on matters of Federal law to everyone in need and on matters of both Federal and State law to persons to whom the Australian Government has a special responsibility; for example, pensioners, exservicemen and newcomers to Australia. The scheme is additional to the assistance which is being given to the States, that is, to the legal aid services. They vary somewhat from State to State. That assistance was announced early this year. It is not quite clear how the precise demarcation between the legal aid bodies of the States, whether they are government ones or private ones, should be defined, because the system differs from State to State. An expert committee has been set up of which Mr Turner, a member of the Council of the Law Society of New South Wales and the Vice-President of the Law Council of Australia, is chairman. Other distinguished members include Professor, now Justice Wootten, Mr Heffernan, the Secretary of the Victorian Legal Aid Committee, and a number of others. The committee is examining the areas of need for the provision of legal assistance and advice, in particular the areas of need not covered by existing schemes; the means by which legal assistance and advice should be provided and in what areas that should be provided by a salaried legal service; and the means by which the finance for these schemes should be provided. It might be helpful to the Senate if I were to make a comprehensive statement on this matter, and I will endeavour to do that tomorrow.

One thing is clear. This matter is of great public importance. There is a deficiency in the provision of legal aid. Endeavours have been made by the States and by private individuals- by the storefront operations which I firmly support- but there are still great areas of need. While some money needs to be put into the system, while urgent help should be given and while some endeavours should be made to rationalise what is happening- that ought to be done forthwith- we ought to evolve a rational scheme in which there will be co-operation between the legal profession and a legal aid office. That is what I am hoping to do. The honourable senator's advice and assistance would be welcome. Advice and assistance are being sought generally because the problem is a very difficult one. It has proved to be so in the United Kingdom, the United States, and no less so in Australia.

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