Uncertainty over legal aid cuts

Before the federal election, the Coalition promised to cut legal aid funding by $41.3 million. The chair of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services group, Shane Duffy, has called on the government to specify which programs will be cut, to allow organisations to plan for the new financial environment. “It will mean the withdrawal of services in three areas of law—civil law and family law and our increased focus on child protection around the country,” he said.

Controversial asylum cap reintroduced

The Immigration Minister has re-made a regulation capping the number of asylum seekers accepted by Australia, so that no more may be accepted this financial year. He revoked a similar cap late last year “within hours of a High Court challenge being lodged against the cap”. Refugee lawyer David Manne had intended to argue the regulation had “no sound or rational basis in policy or law”, but dropped that claim when the regulation was revoked. However, other aspects of the case continued, and the matter is listed for hearing in the High Court tomorrow.

ACT parliament set to expand

The ACT government and opposition have endorsed a plan to increase the size of the territory’s unicameral parliament from 17 to 25 members. The ACT Electoral Commission recommended an expansion because MPs represent three times more electors than any other jurisdiction except Tasmania, and the small cabinet means ministers are forced to manage multiple portfolios. However, the change will reduce the proportion of seats won by minor parties.

Smoke not harmful enough for class action

Smoke from a fire in a coal mine near the town of Morwell has caused residents “sore eyes, sore throats, and shortness of breath”. About 70 people have approached lawyers about the possibility of a negligence class action, due to concerns about the mining company’s handling of the fire. However, lawyers say a successful personal injury claim would require “total impairment of over 5 per cent and most people aren’t going to get that. You might have sore eyes and a sore throat for six months but it won’t add up to over 5 per cent.” Claims by businesses for smoke damage and lost income might be open.

Votes depend on trusty ute

After 1370 votes were lost, forcing WA to hold a fresh Senate election, former police chief Mick Keelty was appointed to review the Australian Electoral Commission’s processes. He indicated that there was some room for improvement: “It’s very Australian to have a ute pull up in a place in the middle of the night and throw boxes (of ballot papers) from one ute to another ute. I don’t want to absolutely break this process. It works. It works well. It works on trust, but it’s a century-old system and it needs to be lifted into 2014.”

Senate censures Minister

The Senate passed a censure motion against Assistant Health Minister, Senator Fiona Nash, over her handling of a conflict-of-interest scandal in her office. The Opposition Senate Leader, Penny Wong, said, “It is a fundamental feature of our system of government that ministers are accountable to the parliament and through the parliament, to the Australian people.” Although the Senate has no power to remove a minister, the censure motion is intended to increase pressure on the Prime Minister to act.