Parliamentary record : Part I debates (27 February 1990)
Debates for 5th Assembly 1987 - 1990; ParliamentNT; Parliamentary Record; 5th Assembly 1987 - 1990
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Northern Territory Legislative Assembly
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Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory
DEBATES - Tuesday 27 February 1990 Development of expertise: the nature of the matters dealt with by the office has led to specialisation in certain areas of law - for example, in federal matters and welfare law. In some areas of the law, the best Territory lawyers are in the ALAO. Advising: a substantial percentage of the work of the office is involved with advice and minor assistance. This again ensures legal services are delivered to the public effectively and speedily. Regional decentralisation: an office is maintained in Alice Springs. It is our opinion that the regional, decentralised office has performed very creditably and will continue to do so. Security of grants of assi stance: the ALAO provides assi stance for .a defined matter and, in the usual course, requires reporting before any extension of a grant of assistance. There are 2 major weaknesses which may be identified in the present system. The first is that recipients must be poor. The means test operates in such a way that only the disadvantaged in the community are eligible. There is a perception that injustices are caused by the application of the test. For example, the test is set at a level which excludes many pensioners who have income other than the pension itself. The principle of incapacity to afford the cost of the proceedings is contained in the guidelines applicable to the ALAO. The grant of legal aid is constrained by funding limitations. The Territory will tackle this difficult problem. Legal aid is provided in accordance with national guidelines. This must continue to be the case to ensure fair treatment for all Australians. However, the bill includes provision for a contingency legal aid fund, a new fund to be used to reach those middle income earners who just exceed the means test exclusions. I will explain how this fund will work when I detail the bill. The second major weakness is the low percentage of income whi ch is self-generated. Although there is a substantial variation among the various state Legal Aid Commissions and ALAOs in relation to self-generated income, in 1986-87 the ALAO in the Territory fell at the lower end of the scale with a self-generated income of 2.78%. Thi s may be compared with the Legal Aid Commission of Victoria at 19%, the Legal Aid Commission of Queensland at 19%, and the Legal Aid Commi ssion of the ACT at 17%. Thi s apparently poor performance may be explained in part by the fact that moneys recovered by the ALAO are returned to the federal Consol idated Revenue Fund rather than staying within the system as an increase in its funds. In addition, the ALAO operated on one of the lowest means tests in Australia. This had the effect of grants of legal aid being made available only to the very poor with the obvious consequence of their inability to pay any contribution. Under the bill, the commission will have the power to retain and invest any funds that it receives. Advice from Treasury is that channelling these funds back to the commi ss i on will generate an addit i ona 1 $100 000 per year for legal aid. As honourable members will appreciate, this means that, effectively, the Territory will be contributing $100 000 more to legal aid than it has agreed to under its agreement with the Commonwealth. I turn to the detail of the bill. The bill is based on similar legal aid legislation throughout Australia. As such, it represents a more or less uniform approach to the structuring and provision of legal aid in a statutory form. Part II provides for the establishment and function of the Legal Aid Commission. By clause 6, the commission is to consist of various 8812
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