Aboriginal Legal Custody Service Secures Ongoing Funding
3 December 2015 at 10:33 am
A massive public and political campaign to save a custody program within the Aboriginal Legal Service has seen the Federal Government deliver a three year funding agreement.
The Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) has secured ongoing funding for the Custody Notification Service (CNS) of more than half a million dollars a year.
The CNS is a 24/7 legal advice and mental health phone line for Aboriginal men, women and children which the Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) said has prevented deaths in police cell custody in NSW and ACT since it began.
The ALS began a public campaign earlier this year that saw more than 50,000 petitioners, key peak legal bodies in NSW, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services around Australia, sister Aboriginal organisations in NSW and around Australia, and a significant number of individuals campaign for the need for CNS funding.
After the campaign the Federal Government reinstated national legal aid assistance, guaranteeing current funding levels for the next two years.
CEO of ALS, Gary Oliver, said the Aboriginal community was pleased with the CNS funding news.
“If a loved-one is picked up by police, families have a very real fear of the person not being treated for health or other concerns while in custody,” Oliver said.
“This was the case before the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and remains the case today as we note the recent and very sad passing of Ms Dhu in Western Australia. All of this means a family’s fear never really goes away.
“That’s why the CNS is so important because it provides a safeguard against preventable deaths in police cell custody.
“We are pleased the Australian government has taken into account all the evidence demonstrating the success of the Custody Notification Service in NSW and ACT.”
The Federal Government has funded the CNS through one-off annual grants since 2008. ALS said it costs $526,000 per year to operate the CNS, employing six solicitors working around the clock without penalty rates and an administration officer. The current grant finishes on 31 December 2015.
“We happily accept the Australian Government’s offer of triennial funding for the CNS, and we say thank you,” Oliver said.
“As the CNS has also been selected for an Australian Human Rights Award, it would seem our very successful program assisting vulnerable Aboriginal people in custody is finally getting the top-level recognition it deserves.
“And Aboriginal families who are at the coalface can remain assured that a person’s legal, health and welfare concerns in custody will be addressed to the best of our abilities via the CNS, continuing the recommendation of the Royal Commission.”
Oliver said the ALS looked forward to signing off on the arrangement with the Australian Government.
“We acknowledge Senator Nigel Scullion, Minister for Indigenous Affairs for his continued public support of the CNS. We will continue to lend support towards his aspiration to roll-out the successful CNS model to every State and Territory,” he said.
“We agree the CNS should not be embroiled in party politics. Such a life-saving service relies on the deep integrity and dignity of our politicians to rise above party politics, and I believe this announcement shows how well we all worked together to get this one through.”