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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1997 Week 13 Hansard (2 December) . . Page.. 4344..

MR SPEAKER: Perhaps they are in your handbag, Ms Tucker.

MR MOORE: I checked my handbag, Mr Speaker, but they do not appear to be there.

Mr Speaker, I think the legal aid funding arrangements are particularly important, considering the approach taken to legal aid by John Howard and his Government. I think it is just another thing that we have to blame John Howard for. It is an incredibly inappropriate way to deal with people as the gulf between the wealthy and the poor grows. This is not something that I would care to deal with if I could avoid it.

The other thing is that the Bill actually involves some unusual drafting which subjects certain aspects of the law on the administration of Commonwealth matters to the variable outcomes of agreements with the Commonwealth Government. I think that, in itself, is an awkward way to operate. Our law is almost, effectively, written by an administrative agreement. That, in itself, is awkward. Having said those things, I think, on balance, the legislation is appropriately supported. It is just a case of trying to find better ways of negotiating this sort of arrangement and of making sure that we are not using legislation as a way of implementing administrative arrangements. There are also some minor and technical amendments which I am comfortable with.

Mr Speaker, there is a great concern for me and a great concern in the community about the growing injustice in our society. Nowhere is it more obvious than where people seek assistance before the law. It seems to me that, of all the areas in which we should seek to find equality, we should be doing so before the law. That the Federal Government should set about undermining a system of legal aid at the same time as their taxation and other policies are ensuring that the wealthy get wealthier and the poor get poorer is a very troubling aspect of the situation we have before us. I think there is a great challenge for us all as legislators to look at the law, the cost of justice and how we can ensure equity before the law, because things are getting worse, not better.

MS TUCKER (8.20): We will be supporting this Bill, albeit reluctantly, because we really do not have a choice. Obviously, it would be an unworkable situation to have the agreement in conflict with the Act. The ACT has been more fortunate, or perhaps less unfortunate, than other jurisdictions in their agreement with the Commonwealth on the provision of legal assistance. One of the most frequent concerns raised in debate about the costs and benefits of free legal aid is that the law is not a business - it is an underlying right upon which society is built - and treating it as a business can only skew the way it is handled.

We are all aware of examples of people - poor or disadvantaged in some way; without access to adequate assistance - who are imprisoned despite the circumstances of their case. The most obvious barrier to justice in our society is money. Changes to funding arrangements for legal aid services are exacerbating the difficulties people have in accessing the justice system. Discrimination and inequality are increasing. Women and children, people with disabilities, and those who are disadvantaged by race or culture, tend to have fewer financial and social resources than business entities and privileged individuals. These are the people who lose when cuts are made to services such as legal aid.

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