Cuts to legal services will have disastrous impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
ALHR has joined 26 other prominent signatories in an open letter to the Prime Minister requesting that he urgently reverse the proposed funding cuts to legal assistance services under the Attorney General’s portfolio, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (ATSILS), its peak body National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (NATSILS), Community Legal Centres (CLCs) and the Legal Aid Commissions (LAC).
This letter has arisen from our deeply held shared concern about the effects that these funding cuts will have on the delivery of frontline legal services to society’s most vulnerable members, particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, women and children. We note that these organisations have already made difficult decisions to withdraw, or reduce, key services due to the proposed funding cuts and accompanying uncertainty. This has created an extremely difficult situation for these services, their staff and most importantly, for the clients and communities they represent.
We are further concerned that these cuts come at a time when there are crisis levels of Aboriginal and Torres Islander peoples’ imprisonment, high rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the child protection system and growing rates of family violence. These cuts will make a bad situation worse as more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will be unrepresented in courts and unable to access legal assistance, including family and civil law services. This will lead to increased costs to all governments as unrepresented litigants will block the courts and create inefficiencies in the system.
We also call upon the Government to take heed of the Productivity Commission’s Access to Justice Arrangements report which called for a further $200m investment into the legal assistance sector, including the Family Violence Prevention Legal Services. We believe that additional funding is needed to address skyrocketing levels of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander imprisonment and family violence.
Open letter attached.