CORE FUNDING TO ABORIGINAL LEGAL SERVICES RESTORED
26 Mar 2015
Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT (ALS) would like to thank the Australian Government Attorney-General for reversing massive funding cuts to our frontline services today, Thursday 26 March 2015.
It was announced in the December 2013 federal government budget that all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services around the country were being cut.
At a state level, we were anticipating a cut of some $3.150 million dollars from an annual budget of just $18.950 million, effective 1 July 2015.
Ivan Simon, Chair of ALS says the government’s 11th hour reversal of some of these funding cuts is a tremendous relief.
“To a great extent, fifteen months of funding uncertainty is over,” says Mr Simon.
“With core funding assured, we can move forward knowing we can continue to provide frontline criminal law services to the most vulnerable people in our community, although we still have funding uncertainty for two of our frontline services, our Family law practice and Custody Notification Service.
“Today however, we can celebrate somewhat as the Attorney-General has listened to the Aboriginal community and understands that any cut to our service is a cut to our frontline services, because everything we do is frontline.”
“The Attorney-General has listened to the legal fraternity and understands that our small community organisation providing culturally appropriate legal advice and representation is already running on a shoestring and that compared to other legal service providers we are underfunded, with ALS lawyers earning some 30% less than their peers.
“The Attorney-General has listened to the breadth of service agencies and organisations who also provide services to Australia’s most vulnerable people and understands that Aboriginal Legal Services provide an essential holistic service to vulnerable Aboriginal people who often present with a multitude of problems related to entrenched disadvantage, only some of them legal.
“And the Attorney-General has listened to the Australian community, some 33,000 concerned members of the community who signed a petition calling for the cuts to be reversed so that vulnerable Aboriginal men, women and children wouldn’t be left without legal advice and representation.
“This reversal of some of the funding cuts has come at the 11th hour for our service, just three months from when the cuts were to take affect.
Phil Naden, Chief Executive Officer says the last 15 months of funding uncertainty has been difficult and unsettling for Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT).
“We have lost some good staff during this period of funding uncertainty, and our Board and management have been desperately trying to find savings that wouldn’t impact our clients, but none could be found,” says Mr Naden.
“Very hard decisions were being made, with rollout to begin today!
“We had just made a decision to cease court operations in some 10 courts in NSW affecting over one hundred Aboriginal people each week. Further decisions were to include massive reductions in our frontline service delivery forcing job losses of around 40 staff members out of our full quota of 185.
“We look forward to talking to the Attorney-General’s Department next week.”
“Even though the reversal of these government cuts ensure our core funding is retained, we are still very concerned about the impending loss of two other frontline services which the Attorney’s Department had funded in a one-off grant two years ago, but which they are not continuing to fund beyond 30 June 2015.
“Our mentioned, our Custody Notification Service (CNS), a 24 hour legal advice and RU OK phone line which prevents Aboriginal deaths in police custody, and our Family Law practice helping to prevent family violence in the best interests of the children, are two frontline services about to cease operation unless a funding source is found.
“If these frontline operations cease to operate effective 30 June 2015, ALS expects job losses of some 16 lawyers, and the reduction in frontline services in family law and the CNS directly affecting some 350 Aboriginal people in NSW and ACT each week.
“Today however we acknowledge all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services and join together with our peak body NATSILS in thanking the Attorney-General for reversing massive core funding cuts to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, seeing clearly how important our frontline services are for Aboriginal men, women and children.”
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