4 April 2019
BUDGET CHANGES PUT ABORIGINAL LEGAL SERVICES AT RISK
Peak body Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) has raised concerns that the Federal Government’s proposal to ‘mainstream’ funding to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (ATSILS), as announced in the Budget, will compromise the ability of Aboriginal organisations to provide culturally-appropriate legal services to Aboriginal people in need.
From 30 June 2020, the Indigenous Legal Assistance Program (ILAP) will be disbanded and Commonwealth funding for ATSILS rolled into a Single National Mechanism for Commonwealth Legal Assistance. Funding will then need to be negotiated with the States and Territories.
Already, the ALS has been advised by the Federal Government that funding for the life-saving Custody Notification Service (CNS), which expires on 30 June this year, is conditional on the NSW Government agreeing to extend the CNS to all Aboriginal people in police custody, including those in protective custody.
Chairperson Bunja Smith said with the deadline and conditions imposed by the Federal Government putting the CNS in jeopardy, the ALS had sought urgent clarification from
NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman for the State to agree to support and fund the expansion of the CNS.
“Given that the Government will enter caretaker period once the Prime Minister calls the election, we are still in limbo, with no guarantee that the ALS will receive the additional funds for our existing CNS. On average, the CNS receives over 300 calls a week in NSW and the ACT, with the ALS responding to 18,631 calls last year alone,” Chairperson Smith said today.
“The ALS is extremely concerned that by eliminating the ILAP and bringing all funding under the Single National Assistance Mechanism via the States and Territories, the very basis of our self-determination will be entirely eroded.
“It’s unfair that we will be forced to bargain with State and Territory Governments on receiving funding for CNS and other desperately-needed legal and support services for our Aboriginal clients and their families. The Commonwealth is just passing the buck.”
“Funds should not just be ‘quarantined’ for servicing Aboriginal clients, but they should go directly to Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations, such as the ALS, which deliver culturally-appropriate services. The Federal Government must surely realise that this is a serious issue which impacts all ATSILS around the country.”