Reconciliation Australia has joined with 25 other prominent organisations in an open letter to the Australian Prime Minister requesting that he urgently reverse the proposed funding cuts to legal assistance services under the Attorney General’s portfolio.
A range of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (ATSILS), including its peak body National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (NATSILS), Community Legal Centres (CLC), and the Legal Aid Commissions (LAC) have suffered funding cuts.
We have a deeply held shared concern about the effect that funding cuts will have on the delivery of frontline legal services to society’s most vulnerable members, particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, including women and children. Already, legal services have had to reduce or withdraw key services due to proposed funding cuts and the associated uncertainty.
This has created extreme difficulty for these organisations and their staff, and most importantly, for the clients and communities they serve.
We are further concerned that these cuts come at a time of crisis levels of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander incarceration, ever-increasing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth detention, high rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the child protection system and growing rates of family violence.
Without properly funded legal services, more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will be improperly represented in courts, and unable to access legal assistance and justice.
Reconciliation Australia also calls 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.
Strong leadership is needed on this issue immediately, if we are to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have access to justice, so we can move forward together towards a just, equitable and reconciled Australia.