Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 13 October 1983
Page: 1747

Mr MAHER(4.05) —In the few minutes that are available to me, I too, wish to comment on the estimates for the Attorney-General's Department. I will first mention the Australian Legal Aid Office and the excellent job done by the employees, lawyers and legal clerks in this important Office. The Government is increasing the appropriation to that Office to $57.4m in the current financial year. In the previous year, $47.5m was actually spent. The dedicated work of the government lawyers is well known. Of course, this work supplements the work of chamber magistrates, community legal aid centres and the various State legal aid bodies. The Australian Legal Aid Office has a duty to give legal aid and assistance to service personnel, returned servicemen, recipients of social security and unemployment benefits and, I believe, to people who want advice about Commonwealth legislation.

The previous speaker has outlined some of the problems of legal aid. Australians face a very serious difficulty when they are confronted with legal proceedings, either of a civil or a criminal nature. They are genuinely worried about the cost of going to court. Many of us see people in these situations. They are very reluctant to get involved in legal proceedings. I believe that the Government is aware of this concern. The reason why there has been an enormous increase in the allocation to the Australian Legal Aid Office is to make more facilities available for legal advice and, I trust, for actually acting for people in litigation and for people who are charged with criminal offences.

I mention also the allocation to the Institute of Family Studies, which is $1. 7m. This Institute recently co-operated with Ashfield Council in my electorate and conducted a community survey in the suburb of Haberfield. I was concerned that the questions asked did not include any reference to the work of the aldermen or to the State member who interviews there every week. I have drawn that to the attention of the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans). I am still waiting on a reply. Parliament pays and authorises the salaries and administrative expenses of the Institute of Family Studies. I would have though that the local member of parliament and the hard-working aldermen in the area at least deserved inclusion in a survey because the survey wanted to know where the people received legal and other advice, whether they went to court houses or approached the Ombudsman. None of these people or institutions is local, whereas the aldermen are very much in contact with the local community and are the people to whom citizens turn when they need advice. The same applies to the State member who interviews there every week.

I was interested to note that the Human Rights Commission has been allocated nearly $2.3m in the Budget. I comment briefly also on the allocation of $28.3m to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. Of course, ASIO, as it is known in Australia, has come under a lot of scrutiny. Regrettably, in trying to regulate ASIO and make sure that it is completely accountable, Labor governments sometimes fumble the pass. I am sure that the present Government will not do so. The Liberal and National Parties and the conservative forces in Australia have traditionally given ASIO and the other intelligence organisations in Australia an open hand. I have had my attention drawn to a recommendation in a pamphlet by Dick Hall, a well known author. He recommended that security services in Australia be subject to the scrutiny of a joint standing parliamentary committee . I think that is an excellent idea. Members and senators should have surveillance over the security agencies in our nation. Cabinet and the appropriate Minister-in this case the Attorney-do not have the time to supervise and scrutinise the work of these agencies. Mr Hall's comments have much to commend them; they certainly appeal to me. I have heard him speak on his ideas, and I draw his remarks to the attention of the Attorney.

There is a need for security services. We all remember some of the appalling incidents that happened recently in our nation, from the Hilton bombing to the murder of the Turkish consul and even more recently the explosion in the Israeli consulate in Sydney. With much regret we recognise that terrorism and terrorist activities have visited our land. I pay tribute to the people who work for the security services. They do what they can to protect our nation and keep it secure. Nevertheless, we must maintain scrutiny and public confidence in our security and secret services, our special branches in the State police forces and in all the organisations which spend public money-taxpayers' money-to maintain security intelligence. I refer the Attorney to Mr Hall's comments.

The other area that I want to touch on is the important work of the Law Reform Commission. This year $1.6m has been allocated to funding the Law Reform Commission's office. The first matter to which I refer is the need for law reform in the area of spent convictions. I was pleased that in one of the papers in 1979 dealing with unfair publication the Law Reform Commission briefly mentioned spent convictions and expunging past criminal records. Many of us, as members of Parliament, meet constituents who may have had a brief encounter with the law, who may have had a petty matter-they may not have had a radio licence- heard by a magistrate. A young man may have failed to attend a National Service parade years ago or a person may have committed some offence against the Social Services Act. These records should not have to be revealed years afterwards. If one is applying for a passport one should not have to reveal a petty indicent that happened years ago or a student peccadillo. A friend of mine, when he was admitted to practise as a solicitor, had to reveal that he had been convicted of being drunk in Hyde Park. He was terribly ashamed of this. I am sure that it caused a lot of mirth at the Solicitors Admission Board. People should be able to forget the past. They should not have to keep revealing these transgressions and minor problems. Our society believes that an offender should be able to live down his or her past. It is incumbent on the Government to deal with this problem. I know there are difficulties. The police invariably require a full and complete disclosure of a person's past record when he is applying for a truck driver's licence or any government licence.

In New Zealand a considerable amount of work has been done on what is described as burying the past and expunging criminal records. There is a proposal in New Zealand that five years after the passing of a non-custodial sentence no one can publish the fact that a person was convicted. If a person is imprisoned, five years after his release no one can mention that he was imprisoned. That is another proposal. It is a somewhat different problem. My point is that a person should not have to reveal something that happened in his past. I encourage the Government to act in this area, to seek a full report from the Law Reform Commission and to legislate. There will be difficulties. Someone who has been convicted of a sexual offence against children and is now seeking employment in a field dealing with children, which is a very sensitive area, is one case. I am sure that such a case involving children would be an exception. However, leaving sexual convictions aside, many citizens who are embarrassed by what has happened in the past and who wish to live it down have contacted members of parliament. Perhaps such people are married; they have certainly grown up and are mature. I draw this important area of law reform to the attention of the Attorney-General. I trust that the Government, if it receives an appropriate report, will legislate in this field and certainly clarify a difficult area that creates many problems for a wide range of Australians.