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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 6 Hansard (3 September) . . Page.. 1914 ..

MR STANHOPE (continuing):

the Commonwealth Government on an issue as significant as the future policing requirements of the ACT. As much as I stretch my mind to seek to understand why it is that the Federal Minister chooses not to take the ACT Attorney into her confidence in relation to the future policing requirements of the ACT, or the Commonwealth's intentions in relation to the AFP, I am unable to understand it. I find that completely unacceptable. (Extension of time granted)

It is unacceptable that the Commonwealth will not take the ACT Attorney, as a minimum, into its confidence. I regret that, as a result, this Assembly has no way of knowing what the Commonwealth thinks, intends or proposes in relation to the future of the Canberra police. That situation is completely unacceptable. Of course, through that bizarre arrangement, it leads one to wonder what it is the Commonwealth is seeking to hide. What is it that is so frightening in the report prepared by the Commonwealth in relation to the AFP that we, the people of Canberra, whose policing requirements are provided by the AFP, cannot be told? It is quite bizarre. It is outrageous and quite unacceptable.

Legal aid is another issue that received considerable attention. I know it is an issue on which the ACT has been in some conflict with the Commonwealth. I am conscious of the leading role which Mr Humphries took in negotiations with the Commonwealth over its very draconian cuts to legal aid and its new hardline attitude to the funding of non-Commonwealth issues. I think the Attorney led the charge for the States and Territories against the Commonwealth. It remains, however, a very difficult issue. It goes to the heart of the rights of all people to equality before the law and equal access to justice.

We should not be complacent. We have a two-, three-, or four-tier justice system. There is justice for the rich, there is justice for the medium rich, and there is very little justice for the poor. The legal aid system seeks to ameliorate that. It does not go anywhere near to achieving it. We should not be complacent about the fact that we as a community do not provide a justice system that is fair to everybody.

In our consideration of legal aid, a constant area of concern was the representation of residents of Canberra in family law matters. One subject which came up for discussion, which I know has been around for years, was the right which children have to representation in family law matters - an issue which we as a community have failed to grasp and do not deal with well.

There are a whole range of issues in relation to the costs of justice and administration in the courts that we could dwell on at some length. I know these questions are incredibly difficult and they sometimes appear to be intractable - that is, the process of getting faster and more efficient justice through our courts. I recognise that this is a very difficult issue. Governments of all persuasions have been working away at it for years, but it is something on which we cannot give up. Courts are slow; justice is slow; the cost of justice is high; and there are serious issues for governments to deal with.

I conclude by adding my compliments to the Attorney's department. Even the Opposition has a relationship with a number of members of the Attorney's office or department - more so than probably any other office - particularly through the drafting office.

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