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Wednesday, 4 December 1974
Page: 3096

Senator BESSELL (TASMANIA) - My question which is directed to the Attorney-General relates to the refusal of the Secretary of the Seamen's Union of Australia, Mr E. V. Elliott, to supply documents to Mr Justice Sweeney, the royal commissioner conducting an investigation into alleged payments to maritime unions. As the refusal was reported to have been made because the Federal Government had not made a decision on whether the union would be able to get or was to be granted legal aid, can the Attorney-General now say whether a decision has been made on this matter?

Senator MURPHY - I have received a communication from Mr Lionel Bowen and I have with me a copy of the advice sent to the parties concerned. Mr Bowen informed me in regard to the communication I had sent him for decision that because royal commissions come under the Special Minister of State he did not consider that legal assistance granted in the case of the 'Voyager' Royal Commission established a precedent for meeting the request of the 2 unions. He went on to give some explanation about it being accorded to individuals in that case and said that he had written to the 2 unions advising them that whilst the Government does grant legal aid to individuals it does not do so in respect of organisations appearing before royal commissions and that, therefore, the cost of legal counsel to be retained by the unions would not be provided.

I have indicated earlier to the Senate that a request had been made to me by Mr Elliott of the Seamen's Union and that I had granted what was described as emergency legal aid. That will continue. Mr Elliott was required to produce certain documents and, briefly, said that he was not prepared to carry on before the Commission and do various things without legal counsel being provided. The offer of legal aid was made and counsel or a solicitor was ready at the hearing to appear for him in respect of that matter and some associated matter which concerned him. I do not want to go into the issues before the Commission but there were certain matters in respect of which it seemed appropriate that legal aid should be made available to him and that will continue. The provision of legal aid to organisations is within Mr Bowen 's sphere and his decision is that it is not to be granted.

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