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Transcript 3918

PRIME MINISTER'S WEEKLY BROADCAST - THE THREAT TO LEGAL AID

Photo of Whitlam, Gough

Whitlam, Gough

Period of Service: 05/12/1972 to 11/11/1975

More information about Whitlam, Gough on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 12/10/1975

Release Type: Broadcast

Transcript ID: 3918

PRIME MINISTER'S WEEKLY BROADCAST
THE THREAT TO LEGAL AID
SUNDAY

12 October 1975

You may have missed the news this week -all too often these things get scant atte-ntion in the pressthat
the Opposition has decided to delay the passage
of the Legal Aid Bill through the Parliament. They
are adopting the old obstructive technique of referring
the bill to a Senate committee. What they are really
trying to do is block the legal aid scheme by a
backdoor method. They know the scheme is popular; they
know the great public demand for it. But they haven't
the courage to vote against it on the floor of the Senate.
I'll return to the legal aid scheme in a
moment, but first, it's worth looking more closely at
this Opposition tactic of referring bills to Senate
committees. They do it all the time. it's a familiar
and characteristic method of Liberal obstruction.
They will neither vote for a bill nor vote against it.
For example, our bill for a national compensation
scheme was held up for eight months while a Senate
committee made a report. An even worse example concerned
legislation to clamp do 4n on lurks and fiddles in
the share mparket and securities business. The origins
of this go back f~ ve years to 1970 when the Senate
set up an inquiry into share trading swindles during
the mining boom. When their repor t finally appeared
we promptly drafted legislation to deal with the problem.
The Opposition majority in the Senate referred the bill
to yet another Senate committee for a report. That
was last April. Since then we've seen the crash of one
share broking firm, Patrick Partners. now much more
0 evidence is needed of in~ tability in the-' stockbroker..
business how.* many more shareholders must burn their
fingers -before our legislation goes through?
In view of all this I suppose we shouldn't
be too surprised by the opposition's attitude to the Legal
Aid Bill. After all, Mr Fraser himself promised in his
Budget speech that if the Liberals got back into office
they would abandon legal aid entirely. They would abolish
it. Why the Opposition should want a Senate inquiry
into something they want to abolish is difficult to
understand. The fact is that despite Mr Fraser, quite a
number of Liberal senators have expressed support for the
Legal Aid Office and several Liberal members have actually
asked for legal aid offices to be established in their own
electorates. For my part, I regard legal aid as one ' of
the most important achievements of the Labor Government.
It was set up to give general advice and assistance to
anyone who needs it, to anyone with a legal problem who
may lack the means to go to a lawyer. We've been setting
UP these offices in cities, suburbs and towns all over

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Australia. They operate in conjunction with local
comnunitv and welfare organisations. The atmosphere
is friendly and relaxed and discussions are absolutely
confidential. Just how badly the service was needed can
be seen from the public's response during the past
two years. It has been quite phenomenal. It's true
that many of those who use the service are people
susoicious or a i4ttle fearful of the law, poor
people, inarticulate or poorly educated peoole, and
migrants with lancuage difficulties. Many offices
have lawyers who speak the language of a local
ethnic group. But generally speaking, clients
represent a very wide cross-section of the people.
All told, the Legal Aid Office has provided assistance
to 130,000 Australians. That's a figure to remember
when Mr Fraser talks of abolishing the scheme:
130,000 Australians have been helped in the past two
vears, and the office is still not fully established.
Not long ago there was a national opinion poll on
= eonle's attitudes to the Legal Aid Office. Ninety-four
= ercent of those questioned saw a need for a legal
aid service, and 75 percent ( including 71 percnet of
Liberal-Country Party voters) could see nothing wrong
with the present scheme. If ever th e was a. service
demanded and needed by the Australia eople,; is the
Australian Legal Aid Office. I
I want to make it clear that despite the
obstruction of the Opposition the legal aid service
will continue. We introduced legislation this year
to establish the office as an independent statutory
authority. It is this legislation which the Opposition
is now blocking, but their obstruction will not prevent
the service from operating in its present form as a
branch of the Attorney-General's Department. We prefer
t the idea of a statutory authority because we believe
the office should be independent and seen to be
independent of the Government. Don't get the idea
that we're taking over all the work of lawyers and
limiting their opportunities. With a very few exceptions
we've had the warm support of the legal profession in
setting up this scheme. In many cases we have found
that legal aid services are best provided by utilizing
the talents of the private legal profession.
During the past two years my Government has shown
its determination to reform and modernise the law on a
whole range of issues. I've mentioned the Corporations
and Securities Bill. Last year we brought in our
historic Trade Practices legislation, which is already
protecting consumers and making business more competitive.
And again, as you know, Parliament has passed the Family
Law Bill, which establishes a single new ground for
divorce and sets up a Family Court of Australia to handle
all matrimonial matters. Those are just three of the things
we have done in the field of law reform.

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it's not much use reforming -he law if
d... ry people have no opportunity to resort to the
law and take action through the courts where necessary.
Perfect law and well-organised courts are of little
use if the -Decple who most need the protection of the
law cannot afford access to the courts. We've always
t aken the view that citizens in a free society have an
absolute right to equality before the law. For too
long many Australians have been denied access to our
system of justice because they could not afford the
se. rVices of lawyers or were not aware of their rights
u-der the law. The Legal Aid Office puts and end to this
injustice. Just as Medibank ensures that the services
of the medical profession are available to all who
need them. he Legal Aid Office ensures that legal services
are available to all who need them. Just as the
Liberals have threatened to demolish Medibank, they now
promise to demolish legal aid. Their behaviour in the
Senate makes it quite plain that they object to legal
aid in principle. None of us knows when we may some
z-Le need legal aid. The Liberals have shown their
contempt for the thousands upon thousands of Australians
who have sought the help of the Legal Aid Office and
for all of us who may some time stand in need of legal
assistance or advice. ti

Transcript 3918