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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2006 Week 1 Hansard (14 February) . . Page.. 2..


MR STEFANIAK (continuing):

public hearings to examine the reports of the Department of Justice and Community Safety, the Legal Aid Commission, the Public Trustee, the ACT Ombudsman, the Electoral Commission, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Nominal Defendant, ACT Policing and the victims of crime support program. Those who attended the public hearings are listed in appendix A of the report.

The committee did not make any comment on the reports from the Nominal Defendant, the victims of crime support program, the Public Trustee and the Ombudsman. However, it commented on a number of other reports. The inquiry provided members with an opportunity to clarify issues that had been raised in those reports. As a result of these hearings the committee noted a number of things. Firstly, it noted that resource constraints had impacted heavily on organisations such as the Office of the Community Advocate, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Legal Aid Commission.

The committee notes that such constraints necessarily restrict the quantum of services provided by such agencies and also compel agencies to rigidly prioritise services. The committee is concerned that the overly tight funding and staffing constraints might impact on ACT residents who would receive fewer or more limited services than those available in the rest of Australia. The issue of staffing numbers was dealt with in relation to the ACT Policing report and the report of the Director of Public Prosecutions. The director said that ideally he would have liked three additional members of staff. However, that agency sometimes receives additional assistance when it is dealing with certain big cases.

The committee raised a number of matters when dealing with the report of the Department of Justice and Community Safety-for example, the cost of in-house and external counsel, capital costs and the size of the Alexander Maconochie Centre, the proposed ACT prison, the establishment of a restorative justice unit within the department to deal with restorative justice issues, data collection, and the management and administration of courts and tribunals. This hoary old chestnut goes back to when I was Attorney-General. A few years later I raised the issue with the then Attorney-General when our roles were reversed. It is still an issue of concern.

There are other concerns relating to data collection and to the ability of the courts to supply data that is necessary for the citizens of Canberra, the government and the Assembly. The committee also examined departmental obligations and industry impacts under the Agents Act, and the certificate validation service in the Office of the Registrar-General. Concern was also expressed about the availability of drug and alcohol programs at the ACT remand centre. I draw to the attention of the government a number of issues that caused concern.

Another organisation that does an excellent job but that is sometimes stretched is the Legal Aid Commission. Like the Office of the Community Advocate one of the matters given heavy emphasis in the commission's annual report is the adequacy of funding and the consequential impact on services, particularly in relation to the level of fees paid to the private profession. The chief executive officer acknowledged at the public hearing that last financial year was more positive, with a return by the private profession to legal aid work, which is a good thing. At an earlier committee inquiry we referred to the fact that problems were being experienced because a number of private practitioners were not participating in this scheme. I am pleased to see that there is an improvement in that area.


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