The Australian Government’s decision to cut funds to vital Aboriginal legal services will make justice more remote for Australia’s most marginalised and disadvantaged communities.
The Human Rights Law Centre’s Executive Director, Hugh de Kretser, said today’s announcement that the Government will defund the national peak body for Aboriginal legal services flew in the face of Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s pledge to be the PM for Aboriginal Affairs.
“Legal aid is a key part of ensuring that all people are equal before the law. This announcement makes a mockery of the Federal Government’s commitment to Indigenous affairs and access to justice,” said Mr de Kretser.
The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (NATSILS) and law reform workers in Aboriginal legal services around Australia will be completely defunded.
“These cuts will not only make access to justice more remote for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, they will exacerbate the shocking rate of Indigenous over-imprisonment.
“Aboriginal legal service law reform work helps to fix problems with laws and policies. It allows the voices of Australia’s most marginalised and disadvantaged to be heard in law reform processes. It addresses injustice.
“Repeated parliamentary inquiries have highlighted the chronic underfunding of Aboriginal legal services. Today’s cuts run completely counter to those repeated recommendations.
“We need to make sure the justice system is available for all people who need it, we should not cut funding and close the door to our country’s most marginalised and disadvantaged.
“To cut this funding while at the same time restoring $2.2 million in legal assistance funding for miners, pastoralists, commercial fishers and councils to respond to native title claims reveals a completely misguided set of priorities,” said Mr de Kretser.
The HRLC is also concerned about the $34 million in cuts to other legal services outlined in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook report.
“These are significant cuts to already overstretched services. Community legal services, Indigenous legal services and legal aid commissions perform preventative, cost-saving legal work that governments should be encouraging, not cutting,” said Mr de Kretser.
For further information or comments contact:
Hugh de Kretser, Executive Director, Human Rights Law Centre, on 0403 965 340 or firstname.lastname@example.org