Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1997 Week 13 Hansard (2 December) . . Page.. 4343..
Debate resumed from 13 November 1997, on motion by Mr Humphries:
That this Bill be agreed to in principle.
MR WOOD (8.14): Mr Speaker, this Bill is another reminder of the harshness of the Federal Government. We remember the crisis that Mr Howard and company precipitated when they threatened the funding of legal aid services around Australia, not just in the ACT. That action showed a considerable disregard for Mr Howard's battlers. Once again, those people who needed help were threatened by the Federal Government - an action we see repeatedly. Members will recall that at that time we united in support of the system that operates here in the ACT, which is pretty similar to what operates around Australia. It is worth mentioning that that was a legacy of a former great Federal Attorney, Lionel Murphy.
We acknowledge that in the end there was an improved financial outcome for the ACT - a good outcome. It actually reflected what was happening at the time. We were subsidising the Federal Government for providing assistance for matters concerning Federal laws and not the ACT. In a sense, that was a measure of the work of the Legal Aid Commission, because they were very well able to support their case. I note that there is one clause in this Bill that removes the need for the Legal Aid Commission in the ACT to provide statistics. Those statistics, I am sure, were very helpful in the argument at the time. Statistics now are accommodated in the agreement that has also been signed between the ACT and the Federal Government.
If the improved financial position is the upside, there is a downside. As a result of the Commonwealth's approach, an agreement has been signed. That agreement has removed some of the flexibility and some of the autonomy of the ACT Legal Aid Commission. The Commonwealth has required very strict guidelines for the use of its money, and it set that out in the agreement. In doing so, there is less discretion for the commission - and this for a body that, I think we all agree, has been working well, within the limitations of its funding. We will see in time how well the agreement works in practice. I acknowledge that, if the Government was to get the funds that are due to it, it was necessary to sign this agreement. We also need this legislation, which the Opposition will be supporting.
MR MOORE (8.17): Mr Speaker, in fact, I think Ms Tucker was on her feet before I was.
Ms Tucker: Is this the Legal Aid (Amendment) Bill 1997?
MR MOORE: It is.
Ms Tucker: Could you speak, Michael? I have lost my speech notes.
MR MOORE: Perhaps I was on my feet first.