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Vanstone defends Indigenous legal aid tender

Extract from Australian Broadcasting Corporation - ABC Online, on 19 April 2004


Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Amanda Vanstone says putting Aboriginal Legal Aid services out to tender is about providing the best service possible.

Senator Vanstone was in Darwin today to meet with various Aboriginal groups to discuss legal aid and the scrapping of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC).

She says groups like the North Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service (NAALAS), which currently employs 13 lawyers, should not be concerned about having to put in a tender, if they think they are doing a good job.

"If the people who are doing well have put a tender in and they're good at the job presumably they'll get the job," he says.

"What we're doing is in a sense, putting it to the test. I mean everybody who's funded says they're doing well but let's put it to the test.

Let's put it out to tender and see what other people say they can do with that money."

Meanwhile, NAALAS has criticised the Senator Vanstone for being unable to respond to claims that legal aid may not be offered to people with prior criminal convictions.

She refused to comment on the issue during an interview on ABC radio this morning because she did not have any paperwork in front of her on the proposal.

NAALAS director Sharon Payne says the issue is not one of policy and the Minister should at least be committed to the basic principle of the presumption of innocence.

"There's a well known statue out there of a lady holding a pair of scales wearing a blindfold and you know you don't need to look at tender documents, exposure drafts or anything else to know this is the very basis of the law in this country," she said.

"Its the very thing that's being eroded now by a number of government initiatives. That is, the onus is on the individual to prove their innocence, not on the state to prove their guilt."

A spokesman for Senator Vanstone has since clarified the situation saying there will be no prohibition on legal aid available to people with prior convictions.


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