Territory Stories

Parliamentary record : Part I debates (27 February 1990)



Parliamentary record : Part I debates (27 February 1990)


Debates for 5th Assembly 1987 - 1990; ParliamentNT; Parliamentary Record; 5th Assembly 1987 - 1990




Made available by the Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory





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Northern Territory Legislative Assembly

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Attribution International 4.0 (CC BY 4.0)

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Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory



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DEBATES - Tuesday 27 February 1990 Commonwealth was insisting that, in the Northern Territory, advice to veterans be funded from within the joint funding arrangement. The Commonwealth was insisting that Tasmania fund war veterans as well, but dropped thi s unreasonable demand when Tasmania objected. Despite thi s, the Commonwealth has the nerve still to insist that, alone in Australia, the Territory funds veterans' legal aid. The Commonwealth talks long and loud about legal aid, but it has become apparent in our dealings with it that it has approached this as a purely economic exercise and is absolutely indifferent to the real requirements of the people who need legal aid. We take a different view. We do not ask for much, but we do ask for fair treatment. Under thi s agreement, the Territory has assumed funding for 40% of the costs of legal aid, phased in over 8 years, commencing from July last year. This is a major commitment by the government to legal aid and its initiative should be recogni sed as courageous and far-sighted in times of economic stringency. By way of introduction, I will outline the existing legal aid structure in the Territory. There is a separate legal aid organisation catering for people of Aboriginal descent. The Aboriginal Legal Aid Service operates from offices in Darwin and Al ice Springs. The provi sions of thi s bill do not extend to Aboriginal Legal Aid which will be kept as a separate body regulated by Commonwealth legislation. The Australian Legal Aid Office was established in the Territory in 1974. It provides legal advice and assistance in matters of Commonwealth and Territory law. Assistance with legal representation is not automatic and is provided subject to a means test. In addition to the means test, the merits of the case are examined to determine eligibility. The basic criterion is whether it is reasonable in all the circumstances to grant aid, regard being had to all relevant matters including the detriment or benefit that may flow to the app 1 i cant from the granting of 1 ega 1 aid and the likelihood of a proceeding ending in a manner favourable to the appl icant. A minimum contribution of $20 is imposed in all cases unless the applicant can demonstrate a real financial hardship. A contribution in excess of $20 is required if the applicant can afford it and a contribution may also be imposed having regard to the outcome of the proceedings. Policy guidelines have been adopted to ensure that funds available for legal aid are directed to the areas of greatest need. No formal appeal procedures apply for a refusal to grant legal aid. However, an appl icant may apply for review to either the office with which that person has been dealing or the director in the Territory or, if dissatisfied with results, to the First Assistant Secretary, Office of Legal Aid Administration, Attorney-General's Department in Canberra. It is poss i b 1 e to i dent ify a number of advantages inherent in the ALAO operation. We have taken these matters into careful consideration prior to the estab li shment of the Territory commi ss i on and propose to incorporate them into the new commission. The 5 major strengths are as follows. Accessibility: the ALAO deals directly with the public. As far as possible, legal services are made available to those people who would not normally approach a private lawyer. The office endeavours to make legal advice immediately available although this has become increasingly difficult in recent years because of financial constraints. There is a minimum of formality. 8811