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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2010 Week 02 Hansard (Thursday, 25 February 2010) . . Page.. 712 ..

ACT, to the tune of $106 million over a period of time, through a number of court matters which the Government Solicitor, I think rightly, was not at liberty to speak about at the time because there are still court matters afoot. We have asked that, at an appropriate time in the future, the committee be briefed on that matter.

Some other highlights were in relation to ACT Policing. The committee spent some time going over the issue of on-the-spot fines and infringement notices and the failings of the government in implementing policy which was passed in this place in April 2008. As at the time of the hearings in November 2009, the policy had not been implemented because of procedural matters. There did not seem to be a mechanism at that stage for electronic infringement notices to be issued, and there had been some delay in having an interim paper-based system. We have called on the minister to provide an analysis on the delays in the next report and compare the performance of the ACT with their interstate counterparts.

In relation to Emergency Services, there were recommendations for improved reporting across the board. There are a lot of gaps in the reporting there and we thought this was a particularly poor part of the report. There was also, as has become customary in annual reports hearings in relation to Emergency Services, some time devoted to the funding of the new Emergency Services headquarters. The more we ask, the murkier the whole issue becomes. We have found that there are considerable discrepancies between what the committee was told this time and what it was told the previous time it asked questions. When you marry that to the information that is provided in the 2009-10 budget review that was tabled in this place on the last sitting Thursday, there is even more confusion. There are some recommendations about accounting for those discrepancies which I would encourage the minister to deal with.

One of the other issues that occupied the committee’s attention was the funding situation with the Legal Aid Commission. We see from the reports that, over two years, funding to the Legal Aid Commission has increased by roughly $100,000 from the commonwealth, $400,000 from the ACT directly and another $400,000 from the statutory interest account. It shows that the statutory interest account is proportionately doing the heavy lifting in increasing the funding to the Legal Aid Commission.

The report shows that, while applications for legal aid increased in the reporting year, the actual number of approved grants fell over the previous year, to the tune of about 1,000 applicants fewer receiving assistance during this reporting period. In addition to that, there have been recent reports that the Legal Aid Commission has had to suspend the roster of private practitioners who provide legal assistance on weekends and public holidays. This is of concern because it appears that people have been left unrepresented, and in some cases have been remanded in custody because they have been unrepresented.

Over the years, the committee has expressed concern about the funding for legal aid. It is an issue that occupies not just our minds: the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee has contemplated this in its report Access to justice and we note that the Victorian Attorney-General has been critical of the impact of cuts from the federal government in relation to legal aid.

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