- The Guardian
- Issue #2052
Photo: Mitchel Lensink (@mitchellens.ink) – www.rawpixel.com Public domain.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (ATSILS) around Australia are calling on the federal government to deliver a $250 million emergency support package to prevent imminent service freezes and unjust incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
At the frontline, certain service locations in regional Australia face freezes within four weeks. A dramatic increase in service freezes can only be prevented or reversed with additional core funding from the Commonwealth.
Demand for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (ATSILS) has increased by up to 100 per cent since 2018, but core funding from the Commonwealth has declined in real terms.
Service freezes will have dire consequences for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians who need ATSILS to have any chance of equal access to justice. Service freezes risk disastrous outcomes including increased family violence and child removal, unjust incarceration, and deaths in custody.
The workload crisis facing frontline services risks the physical and mental health of staff and clients. The difficult decision to freeze services means real people who deserve culturally appropriate legal representation are turned away and suffer unnecessarily through the justice system.
“Our staff are at the brink of collapse. Double the services and less funding: that’s the latest driver of Australia’s national justice system emergency for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” said Karly Warner, Chair of NATSILS, the national peak body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services around the country, and CEO of the Aboriginal Legal Service in NSW/ACT.
“The federal government has known about our slide into crisis for some time. They appear to be willing to let our services either collapse or turn people away.
“We are committed to doing everything we can to support our communities but there’s no point in sugar-coating it – this is an extremely dire situation. This crisis can only be averted with immediate emergency funding, complemented with a sector strengthening plan for ensuring ongoing service sustainability for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
“Every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person who wants to use a culturally safe legal service deserves to be able to access those services. Communities are crying out for greater access to ATSILS. The federal government is committed to listening to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices, and we need them to listen right now,” Ms Warner said.
This funding crisis has been building for some time because successive parliaments have not prioritised culturally safe services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The federal government was elected promising to address Aboriginal justice. All Australians want to see investment in services that work.
Aboriginal Legal Service ACT, edited for reasons of space. Sign the petition to properly fund ATSILS at alsnswact.org.au/fund-atsils-now