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Issue # 1408      29 April 2009

Pro bono suggestion “an insult”

The Aboriginal legal service in South Australia is considering another complaint to the United Nations against the Commonwealth and state governments’ failure to fund the service adequately.

Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement (ALRM) chief executive officer Neil Gillespie told The Koori Mail newspaper that the situation was “ridiculous”, with the Commonwealth government suggesting the ALRM should try to access pro bono legal services.

“They’re suggesting we take a begging bowl to the legal profession to get representation for Aboriginal people who are seeking representation regarding being members of the Stolen Generations,” Mr Gillespie said.

“That’s appalling. I bet the Legal Services Commission would never be told to seek pro bono services for its funding, so why is this suggested to the ALRM?”

Mr Gillespie said the ALRM recently held a Stolen Generations Forum and despite many being invited, not one politician from the State or Commonwealth governments bothered to turn up.

“Not one representative attended to explain their positions to members which was very, very disappointing,” he said.

The ALRM has argued previously that its funding, and funding for other Aboriginal Legal Services around the country, had remained static since 1996, despite promises of increases by Labor prior to the last election.

Mr Gillespie said it was time for both levels of government to be put “under the microscope”, adding he would welcome an opportunity to debate attorney-generals from both state and federal governments on the matter of funding.

He said ALRM would lodge a complaint under the UN Convention for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the UN Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

“Australia is seeking to become a member of the UN Security Council and one of their claims is that Australia is a principal advocate of human rights,” Mr Gillespie said. “ALRM intends to write to all members of the UN General Assembly expressing concerns at Australia’s claim to having a good human rights record, especially when it has a complaint lodged with the CERD committee.

“The Government is denying access to justice to members of the Stolen Generations, so we need to take it further. We need to put Australia under international scrutiny for its human rights failures as it continues to deny justice to Aboriginal people and the Stolen Generations.”

The Koori Mail reported last September that the ALRM was lodging a complaint with the UN over the “racist” treatment of Aboriginal people.

Mr Gillespie said the complaint had been effective.

The Australian Government has endorsed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

(see article this issue of The Guardian – Govt wins praise, but also warned as Australia supports UN Declaration).

The Koori Mail

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