Page 920 - Week 03 - Thursday, 3 April 2008
It is worth putting this particular provision, section 62, in some context. First of all, this provision has sat in the act for some time but it has rarely, if ever, been exercised. Now, clearly, there is a view that it should be retained. I am supportive of that and I am happy to support this amendment. But I think the issue, moving forward, will involve how this discretion on the part of the Attorney-General is exercised. It would be very easy to agree to every request that came forward from someone who put the argument that they were unable to be represented without assistance being provided through this provision in the act.
Of course, there need to be clearer criteria around which decision making can be made, because I now expect that there will be an increase in the number of applications made under this provision. Whilst that is not necessarily a bad thing—in fact, if people are availing themselves of all possible avenues to achieve legal representation, that is a good thing—the issue relates to assessing the merits or otherwise of those applications. Currently, there is no guidance available to me, as Attorney-General, as to how I should determine which applications merit assistance and which do not, particularly given that these applications are made outside the context of the assistance that is provided through the Legal Aid Commission, the Welfare Rights and Legal Centre or other community-based law bodies.
My department is now preparing for me a clear set of criteria that I can use from this point forward in assessing the merit or otherwise of applications for aid under this provision, and I think that is important. I and future attorneys will need to have a clear framework within which to make decisions. It cannot just be done on the basis that I or one of my successors at some point says, “Well, that looks reasonable enough to me.” Indeed, most applications would probably meet that test, but there will need to be a more coherent set of criteria used to assess applications, and that is something which has now been put in place, so that decisions made by me and future attorneys will be able to be assessed and judged against specific criteria. I think that is a much more transparent way to progress the matter.
The government supports the amendment. We recognise that the Assembly as a whole believes that this provision should be retained. We support that; we are very pleased to retain it. The issue is to make sure that, going forward, there is a clear framework for decision making when such applications are made.
MRS BURKE (Molonglo) (10.47): Mr Speaker, Mr Stefaniak has unfortunately been detained on a personal matter this morning. I move:
That debate be adjourned.
Mr Corbell: No, the bill is just about finished.
MRS BURKE: He has an amendment, Mr Corbell.
Mr Corbell: He has only got one amendment.
MRS BURKE: I seek your indulgence. He has a doctor’s appointment.