Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2010 Week 2 Hansard (25 February) . . Page.. 713..
MRS DUNNE (continuing):
This is an issue that goes back many years. My recollection is that it goes back to 1996, when the Howard government cut legal aid funding. The then ACT Attorney-General, Mr Humphries, was very critical of the commonwealth government, and he maintained his criticism of the commonwealth government's cut in legal aid funding. I did not hear the same vociferousness from Mr Stanhope and I do not hear it now from Mr Corbell. There are recommendations for the Attorney-General to do what he can to seek real increases in legal aid funding for the ACT.
There are other issues that arise in the report. The committee notes that the commission's staffing profile indicates that there are only 24 legal officers in a staff of 60. While we make the comment that the Legal Aid Commission cannot be compared to a normal legal practice—and I have, on other occasions, made similar points about conflict of interest—we do question whether the balance is quite right.
We also looked at a range of expenses. There seems to be a lot of money being spent on recruitment consultancies. We also note that there is—or was at the time of reporting—an as yet unexpended contract for $23,000 for payroll services. The committee did wonder why the payroll services were being outsourced rather than going to the government Shared Services agency.
And there are recommendations in relation to getting the balance between administrative costs and legal costs in the Legal Aid Commission quite right. At the moment, we are concerned that people are being deprived of access to justice because there is not sufficient money for legal services in the Legal Aid Commission.
To conclude, let me say that the community advocate raised issues in relation to the availability of a register of enduring powers of attorney and other instruments. The committee has made recommendations about the availability of that, especially to health officials, where those decision-making instruments are of the utmost importance.
I commend the report to the Assembly. I look forward to the government response. I would like to thank my colleagues: Ms Hunter; Ms Porter, when she was a member of the committee; and Mr Hargreaves. Mr Hargreaves was in a difficult position because he was in hearings and participating in hearings where he had prior knowledge because of his previous position. He acted appropriately in those matters and I thank him for that. I also thank Hanna Jaireth for her splendid work on this and acknowledge the support work of the committee secretariat, especially Lydia Chung, who did a lot of work trying to keep track of the questions on notice, which were substantial. Special thanks need to go to Lydia and Hanna for their persistence in tracking down answers to questions on notice.
MR HARGREAVES (Brindabella) (10.53): Like Mrs Dunne, the chair, I would like to commend the report to the chamber. One of the points or one of the themes which comes through this particular report is mirrored in other reports by other committees into other departments reasonably frequently: this is about format and information and the way in which it is presented.