Petition to Save Indigenous Legal Services
17 March 2015 at 10:34 am
The Aboriginal Legal Service has resorted to a national online petition via Charge.org to try to stop the Federal Government’s $13.3 million in cuts to Indigenous legal services proposed for July.
The ALS (NSW/ACT) says the cuts to Aboriginal legal services will mean more Aboriginal people will go to jail, and potentially, more deaths in custody.
“The cuts will mean huge job losses, potential office closures, and significant reductions in our frontline services," ALS CEO Phil Naden said.
“More Aboriginal women and children will experience family violence, more Aboriginal children will be taken away, more Aboriginal men, women and children will go to jail, and for longer and more Aboriginal people will die in custody.
“On Budget night on 13 May 2015, the Federal Government will tell Aboriginal Legal Services how much we are being cut. Right now, we're told the cut is nearly 20 per cent. But it could be more.”
The Change.org petition has attracted more than 8,000 signatures so far and the ALS is hoping to reach 10,000.
Top legal bodies have also supported the campaign.
The Australian Bar Association has called on the Government to rethink the proposed cuts.
“The likely consequences of these cuts will be chaos in the courts and an increase in indigenous imprisonment, [which is] already at unprecedented levels,” Australian Bar Association (ABA) President Fiona McLeod said.
The National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC) has also written to the Federal Government, expressing major concerns about proposed reforms to funding of legal assistance services and particularly the timetable for change.
Law Council of Australia (LCA) President Duncan McConnel called for the Federal Government to immediately re-commit funding to Indigenous Family Violence Prevention Legal Services (FVPLS).
“Given what we know – that Indigenous people are hospitalised due to family violence at up to 33-times the rate of non-Indigenous people – there is an urgent need for the Government to re-think this policy and commit to providing legal services to assist families to escape the cycle of violence and dysfunction,” McConnel said.
The Commonwealth has stated that new arrangements will take effect from 1 July 2015, but neither the amounts of funding to each state or territory, nor the terms of the proposed funding agreements between the Commonwealth and State and Territory Governments will be known until the Federal Budget on 12 May 2015.
“While elements of these reforms have merit, this is really an impossible timeline to effectively deal with funding for an absolutely crucial sector,” Michael Smith, NACLC Chair said.
“Community Legal Centres assist thousands of highly vulnerable and disadvantaged clients every week and these people will face huge uncertainty when they most need legal help.
“This will mean significant uncertainty for CLCs in terms of the services they will be able to offer clients moving forward and leave only a matter of weeks for funding allocation decisions to be made, and the drafting, negotiation, and signing of funding agreements. The proposed timetable is unrealistic and is actually counterproductive to the express intent of the proposed reforms.”