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Tuesday, 6 March 1984
Page: 438

Senator MACKLIN — I preface my question which is directed to the Minister for Veterans Affairs by making reference to the fact that the Repatriation Act does not permit legal practitioners to appear before the various tribunals that come under that Act. Is it not a fact that briefs are currently prepared for non- legal practitioners who appear on behalf of the Repatriation Commission and that those briefs are prepared by legal practitioners or personnel with legal education within a department? Is it the case that legally trained officers appear for the Repatriation Commission, contrary to the spirit of the Act, in appeals before the Repatriation Review Tribunal? For example, is the First Assistant Commissioner, Legal Services, in the proper and ordinary sense of the word a legal practitioner? Has he completed any recognised degrees of legal studies leading to a legal degree or award? Has he appeared for the Repatriation Commission in appeals before the Tribunal?

Senator GIETZELT —Senator Macklin has raised the question of legal representation before the Repatriation Review Tribunal, a matter that does excite some concern from time to time when the Repatriation Commission takes advantage of its rights and obligations to have such legal representation before a final court of appeal . I remind Senator Macklin, as well as the Senate generally, that the Repatriation Commission makes these decisions based upon the legal argument and what it considers to be its legal responsibilities. This is not a matter for the Minister or for the Department. Because the Repatriation Commission is a statutory authority it is able to act in its own right and make its own value judgments about these matters without consultation with the government of the day or the Minister. In those circumstances, whatever private views I might have on the matter, it is not competent for me to express other than a personal view to the Repatriation Commission, which acts on its own authority and under the provisions of legislation which is the responsibility of this Parliament.

It is true, as Senator Macklin has suggested, that the First Assistant Secretary in the Legal Services Division and the Assistant Secretary have appeared before the RRT as advocates. I am advised that that happens from time to time because of the lack of suitable staff. That has not happened since November 1983 because, I understand, the Commission has found it necessary to engage legal representation on matters affecting legal interpretation. It believes that it has some responsibility to the Parliament to test these matters in the final court of appeal. As I have said before, many of these cases have taken 800 days to come before the Repatriation Review Tribunal and have run the gamut of all the determining processes.

If there were cases which had legal implications, I think the Parliament would be asking questions as to why the Commission failed to avail itself of adequate legal representation before the final court of appeal if it did not do so. Generally speaking, the Repatriation Commission does avail itself of that opportunity. In response to the specific question Senator Macklin asked, I am advised that in only 2 1/2 per cent of the cases before the Tribunal does the Repatriation Commission avail itself of legal representation.