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Friday, 6 December 1985
Page: 3157

Senator GARETH EVANS (Minister for Resources and Energy)(1.21) —The Government will not accept the amendment, for reasons that were set out by the Attorney- General (Mr Lionel Bowen) himself in the other place in replying to the debate on 13 November. This provision, although having obvious merit at the time that it was inserted in the Judiciary Act, in the days before we had a fully functioning legal aid system, is in fact quite anachronistic. The existing legal aid system with the commissions now existing in every State is perfectly appropriate and apt to deal with matters arising under Commonwealth laws in exactly the same way as the system is perfectly apt to deal with any other matters which might involve people appearing before the courts.

Senator Durack —How could Maher have defended himself without legal assistance? In the end, he was denied legal aid by the Legal Aid Commission.

Senator GARETH EVANS —Was he denied legal aid?

Senator Durack —It would not give him legal aid and that is why he applied to the Attorney-General.

Senator GARETH EVANS —It is a matter for the legal aid commissions to apply the criteria available to them. I do not want to make judgments about the assets available to Mr Maher, even if not technically his own to dispense. Clearly, the Legal Aid Commission made some kind of judgment along those lines. It is a judgment, I think, that at first blush would be shared by about 99.9 per cent of the Australian community, in all the circumstances of that case, and I really do not see that it is helpful to track over that case, the circumstances of which we cannot know in this chamber. The only relevance of the case is that it disclosed the absurdity of the still continuing existence of a procedure for direct application to the courts which had some--

Senator Haines —It also discloses the problems in the bankruptcy law that allowed him to divest himself of those assets and become technically bankrupt. The problem surely lies there.

Senator GARETH EVANS —That may be so, but the problem is not addressed by retaining on the statute book, even in the modified form that is now proposed, the existing procedure in section 69, which is a relic from an earlier pre-legal aid age.

Senator Haines —But it is not addressed by removing it either.

Senator GARETH EVANS —It may not be, but that is not what this legislation is about. If the honourable senator thinks there is a case for some further legislation she is at liberty to communicate that fact and I undertake to do so to the Attorney.

I do not want to prolong the debate. The prospect of moving Senator Haines once she has made up her mind is minute. I acknowledge that and I shall not waste her time, mine or that of the Senate in trying further to push the immovable, albeit irrational, object that presently confronts us in the chamber at this time.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.