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Tuesday, 13 November 1973
Page: 1713

Senator KEEFFE - I ask the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs whether he is aware that an Aboriginal lad named Lewis Saunders was incarcerated in the Quilpie police lockup this year for an alleged theft of goods valued at $50; that he was not brought to trial until 80 days after his arrest; that he was given no legal advice; and that he was a first offender but received a sentence of 3 years gaol with hard labour? Will the Minister cause an immediate inquiry to be made into all the circumstances of this case and take appropriate steps to ensure that an appeal against this harsh sentence is properly lodged on behalf of the lad concerned?

Senator CAVANAGH - The case has received wide publicity throughout Australia. I think everyone knows of it. The unfortunate thing about this case is that the lad appeared in court without legal representation. This was unfortunate because this Government is prepared to provide counsel for any Aboriginal who has to appear in court.

Senator Murphy - This was a State case?

Senator CAVANAGH - Yes, it was a State case. As I was pointing out, this lad could have received free legal service if he had known that it was available. We have a problem in getting the message through to our Aboriginal people that such a service is available to them if they need it. We are trying to overcome this problem by funding legal aid services in all States of the Commonwealth. However, we still have the problem of conveying this information to Aborigines in the remote areas.

The court has taken a decision in the case raised by Senate Keeffe and I certainly would not hold an inquiry into that decision. I think it is doubtful that the same sentence would have been imposed had some case been put up for the offender. It seems likely that there would have been some mitigation of the penalty. The position now is that an appeal has been lodged. He will have competent counsel to represent him when the appeal is heard.

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