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The Northern Myth

Sep 6, 2013

Bashing the blacks on legal aid - the LNP paves the road to 'assimilation by incarceration'

The late release of news of the LNP's cuts to Aboriginal legal aid services across the country will, in the words of one lawyer, "pave the way to assimilation through incarceration."

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Late yesterday afternoon the LNP’s Joe Hockey and Andrew Robb took questions on the the LNP’s policy costings.
Almost lost in the fog of that presser and subsequent fallout was this response by Hockey to a question.

QUESTION: You’re talking about $42 million, sorry billion, of savings, sorry, by re-prioritising indigenous policy reforms, which is a third of the savings…

HOCKEY: Sorry, 40. Sorry, which number are you referring to? 9.3.

QUESTION: The last page, the reprioritisation of indigenous policy programs. What does that mean and is that in breach of the…

HOCKEY: That effectively deals with legal aid services delivered by contractors at various sites. There has been some change in that program. What we’ve said is we’re scaling it back by about 20 per cent. Indigenous aid.

That exchange relates to a single line item of savings – totalling $42 million over the next three years – listed under ‘Other Coalition Savings‘ at point 9.3 of the LNP’s costings list that would ‘reproiritise’ Labor’s Indigenous Policy Reform program.

That program:

… funds high-quality, culturally sensitive and accessible legal assistance services for Indigenous Australians. It ensures Indigenous Australians can fully exercise their legal rights as Australian citizens. The program also funds law reform, policy development and community legal education activities that advance the legal rights of Indigenous Australians.

The Indigenous Policy Reform program funds eight organisations – all Aboriginal legal aid services – to deliver legal assistance to Aboriginal people in all States and territories.

As I noted here yesterday, the Coalition has been very light-on in terms of providing details about its plans for indigenous policy over the next few years. That changed yesterday afternoon with the last minute release of it’s Indigenous Affairs policy. That policy is full of the usual warm-and-fuzzy guff that is typical of the indigenous affairs plans from both major parties.

Of note is that there is nothing in the Coalition’s Indigenous Affairs policy about these swingeing cuts to Aboriginal legal aid.

In a piece in The Australian today Melbourne barrister and member of the Law Council of Australia’s access to justice committee, David Neal SC, examines the current state of legal aid funding, which he described the system as ‘in crisis.’

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus told Neal that Labor was has committed to further funding increases.

Neal quotes Shadow Attorney-General George Brandis – who presumably would have been aware of the looming cuts to Aboriginal legal aid when he made these comments responding to a Law Council questionnaire in a piece in The Australian late last week:

… the Coalition cannot commit to increase funding for legal aid services, nor can we stipulate a proportion of total legal assistance funding that will be provided by the federal government.

Following the release of news of the Coalition’s cuts Attorney-General Dreyfus was scathing.

Tony Abbott is big on talk but is nowhere to be found when it comes to supporting Indigenous Australians to get the legal assistance they deserve. The Coalition’s cuts amount to an almost 15 per cent cut to Indigenous legal services to 2016-17. There can be no doubt that Tony Abbott is a hypocrite when it comes to supporting Indigenous Australians … Not since the Howard Government have Australians faced the threat that representation in Australia’s courts would be only for the wealthy.

One long-term criminal lawyer (who pled anonymity due to conditions of their employment) who has appeared on both sides of the bar table pointed to the pride that Aboriginal people have in their legal aid agencies and the essential services they provide.

… the cuts go to more than that. ALSs are sources of pride, of inspiration and of hope for Aboriginal people. Aboriginal people run them, the staff, in the main, is Aboriginal and the clients we serve are in the most straightened circumstances of the most straightened group of people in our country.

ALSs give voice to the protests of many Aboriginal who are on the receiving end of the ever more powerful presence of super-charged police forces, an ever increasing capacity for incarceration and harsher and harsher laws.

These cuts further paves the way for what is in essence assimilation by incarceration.

David Neal SC of the Law Council of Australia echoed the concerns that incarceration rates could rise from already unacceptable levels. This morning he told The Northern Myth that the LNP cuts:

… coincide with a crisis in the extent of indigenous incarceration. This comes out of the blue and threatens incredible injustice.

One effect will be to throw huge costs back onto state and territory legal aid commissions. This will make the legal aid crisis even worse.

North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency’s Chief Executive, Priscilla Collins, this morning told ABC Local Radio in Darwin that the cuts would set her service back years.

People aren’t going to have access to justice, which means people are going to be going to court unrepresented, it’s going to increase the incarceration rate and then it’s going to clog up the justice system.

We are the ones who save the justice system money, so these costs are going to blownout and be passed on to another section. The worst thing about all this is, Aboriginal people are the most disadvantaged people, and this is one thing that they are now going to lose access to justice.

Robert Gosford —

Robert Gosford

Likes birds and people, not necessarily in that order.

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13 comments

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13 thoughts on “Bashing the blacks on legal aid – the LNP paves the road to ‘assimilation by incarceration’

  1. Centaur

    Warren Mundine betrayed the ALP and now we see this from his new bosom buddies

  2. Paddy O

    Bob

    Thanks for your coverage on this and other election issues. It has been so hard to get any meaningful analysis of these matters anywhere. I would suggest a community campaign would bring out a lot of high profile supports. ALS WA has Fred Chaney and many High Court Judges as their alma mater.

  3. Bob Gosford

    Bugger! Looks like I won’t be getting a job with that government department anytime soon …

    Jane, thanks for pointing this out – I did wonder about that sentence at the time that i wrote it.

    Perhaps you could suggest an alternate version?

  4. Jane Lodge

    The blog is thought provoking and offers some interesting insights into things Indigenous but get an editor please, the grammatical errors get in the way eg
    “One long-term criminal lawyer (who pled anonymity due to conditions of their employment) who has appeared on both sides of the bar table pointed to the pride that Aboriginal people have in their legal aid agencies and the essential services they provide…”

  5. Bob Gosford

    Dear Dingo – I’ll ask you about the presumption of innocence next time you have to go to court …

  6. Dingoes Breakfast

    If we are all equal under the Law then let all criminals pay for their own Lawyers.

  7. Bob Gosford

    Here is @PatsKarvelas in The Oz on this issue with interesting quotes from Mundine, who it seems will now be conducting a review that would be “reviewing all indigenous programs, including legal services.”

    Dear @warrenmundine – I’d love to see the terms of reference for your review …

    ‘Not a good start for PM for indigenous Australians’

    BY:PATRICIA KARVELAS

    From:The Australian

    September 07, 2013 12:00AM
    ·
    WARREN Mundine, who will head a prime ministerial indigenous council under an Abbott government, has criticised the Coalition’s decision to cut Aboriginal legal services, saying it would be part of a wide-ranging review.

    The Coalition has announced a cut of $42 million to the Indigenous Policy Reform Program, which provides funding to the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services across Australia.

    Mr Mundine told The Weekend Australian he did not support the decision, but said he would be reviewing all indigenous programs, including legal services.

    “The legal services will be part of my review. I’m a strong supporter of the legal services for Aboriginal people,” he said.

    “I’ll be honest, I wasn’t happy about such a large reduction.

    “It’s the shadow treasurer’s call because of the black hole Labor has left.”

    NATSILS chairman Shane Duffy said that, while the body was seeking details from the Coalition, such a cut would represent an almost 20 per cent reduction in funding.

    “Given that Tony Abbot has positioned himself as the prime minister for indigenous Australia, it’s not a good look to start off by slashing the program that provides funding to culturally competent legal assistance services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” Mr Duffy said.

    “Given that our peoples are 15 times more likely to be incarcerated and that the rates of incarceration have risen by 50 per cent in the past 10 years compared to only 5 per cent for the rest of the population, access to culturally competent legal assistance services is a critical issue for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.”

    Community Law Australia said yesterday that while Mr Abbott had shown commitment to addressing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander disadvantage, cutting funding to NATSILS was likely to entrench disadvantage even further.

    “Cutting funding to the NATSILS does not make sense in terms of reducing barriers to access to justice,” spokeswoman Carolyn Bond said. “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are shockingly over-represented in the justice system, being around 15 times more likely to be in prison than non-indigenous Australians. Cutting off access to free legal help will not work to address this problem.

    “Indeed, with the knowledge that the Coalition plans to restore funding to Native Title respondents at the same time as cutting free legal help for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples — it presents a very chilling picture for an already marginalised group with high legal need.

    “Community Law Australia strongly urges the Coalition to rethink the cut to this important part of the legal assistance sector if they are serious about indigenous affairs.”

  8. Bob Gosford

    This from the ABC – a comment from Tony Abbott on the legal aid cuts.

    “Opposition Leader Tony Abbott weighed in to the argument later in the day and said the funding cuts to Indigenous legal services would affect bureaucrats and not front-line services.
    “What we are going to do is take a modest saving from Indigenous bureaucracy,” he said.
    “I’m perfectly happy to defend that because we don’t want more bureaucrats roaming around; we want more people actually delivering services and we want to be funding a better life for Aboriginal people.”

    The piece is here: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-09-06/coalition-costings-nt-reaction/4940316?section=nt

  9. Bob Gosford

    This is from a piece by Jane Lee in The Age today – “Jail risk ‘higher for indigenous’ under Coalition tenure”

    “Shadow attorney-general George Brandis said on Friday that the cut was not expected to affect indigenous legal aid, only policy reform administered under the program.

    ”Given Labor’s fiscal irresponsibility, the Coalition has had to look for savings in the budget to ensure spending is once more under control,” he said.

    NATSILS deputy chair Priscilla Collins said that federal funding for the program fell in one ”bucket” with no separate funding for policy reform: ”That’s going to have a direct impact on our service delivery.”

    See the whole piece here: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/federal-election-2013/jail-risk-higher-for-indigenous-under-coalition-tenure-20130906-2tau9.html

  10. Bob Gosford

    The eight Indigenous organisations funded under the program to deliver legal assistance services at a number of permanent sites, court circuits and outreach locations in urban, rural and remotes areas are as follows:

    – Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) Limited (New South Wales, including Australian Capital Territory and Jervis Bay Territory)
    – Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service Co-operative Limited (Victoria)
    Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services Qld Limited (Queensland, including Torres Strait)
    – Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia Incorporated (Western Australia)
    Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement Incorporated (South Australia)
    – Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre Incorporated (Tasmania)
    – North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency Limited (Northern Territory north zone)
    – Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service Incorporated (Northern Territory south zone)

  11. Hector Lung

    Just a window into the inequity at play here. Right next to the ALS in Kununurra WA a $43 million new court house is being built. Total waste of money. The current “temporary” court house is in use, it cost $5 million and it is fine. So huge investment made in buildings to stamp the authority of the state, shrinking funds to actually get lawyers in the building to give justice a chance.

  12. Bob Gosford

    This is the text of a media release posted earlier today by Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Council of Social Service, Dr Cassandra Goldie.

    ACOSS concerned by proposed cuts to Aboriginal legal services and foreign aid

    Friday September 6, 2013

    Speaking from the G20 Leaders Summit in Russia, Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Council of Social Service, Dr Cassandra Goldie said, “It is very disappointing that some of the Coalition’s proposed savings measures appear to target some of the most disadvantaged people at home and overseas.

    “We are concerned that in addition to the $4.5 billion cut to foreign aid, a proposed cut of $42 million over 4 years to the ‘Indigenous Policy Reform Program’ could cut funding from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services.

    “Affected services tell us they are still awaiting further details about the announcement that comes without notice or consultation with services that provide vital assistance to some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in our community.

    “The incarceration rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is a national shame, accounting for a quarter of the prison numbers despite being less than 3 per cent of the total population. It is difficult to see how the proposed funding cut is consistent with our shared interest in reducing this disturbing gap.

    “ACOSS accepts that our nation faces a fiscal challenge, however, we have always maintained this should not be solved at the expense of people doing it the toughest.

    “We are deeply disappointed about the Coalition decision to cut $4.5 billion dollars to Australia’s foreign aid growth over the next four years.

    “We join Australian international aid organisations in urging the Coalition to rethink this savings measure, which will harm hundreds of thousands of the poorest people in the world, and damage Australia’s image overseas, especially in our region.

    “As the global community watches Australia take up the Presidency of the G20, as well as the Presidency of the UN Security Council, these actions will only diminish us all. We are one of the wealthiest countries in the world, where the majority of us are enjoying living standards better than ever before. We must carry our responsibilities as global citizens.

    “Whoever forms Government will need to find a way to meet the gap between falling revenues and the community’s reasonable expectations. This should be done by targeting budget waste and reform of the tax system as ACOSS has advocated, not cutting essential services and supports,” Dr Goldie said.

  13. Bob Gosford

    This is the text of a media release posted earlier today by Shane Duffy, Chair of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services.

    MEDIA RELEASE
    6 September 2013

    Coalition signals 20 per cent funding cut to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services

    Hidden amongst the Coalition’s costings announcement yesterday was a funding cut of $42m to the Indigenous Policy Reform Program*, the program which provides funding to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (ATSILS) across Australia.

    NATSILS Chairperson, Shane Duffy, said that while NATSILS are seeking clarification from the Coalition as to the full detail of the indicated cuts, if such a move is solely targeted at ATSILS funding it would be highly disappointing given the Coalition’s stated commitment to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the fact that such a cut would represent an almost 20 per cent reduction in funding for ATSILS and would signal a significant backwards step to 2008 funding levels.

    “Given that Tony Abbott has positioned himself as the Prime Minister for Indigenous Australia, its not a good look to start off by slashing the program that provides funding to culturally competent legal assistance services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” Mr Duffy said.

    “given that our peoples are 15 times more likely to be incarcerated and that the rates of incarceration have risen by 50 per cent in the past 10 years compared to only 5 per cent for the rest of the population, access to culturally competent legal assistance services is a critical issue for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.”

    Mr Duffy said that potential cuts to legal assistance services would be short-sighted.

    “The cost-effectiveness of such a funding cut is highly questionable as it is well recognised that cuts to legal assistance services only increase the pressure on the justice system and passes on the cost burden to other parts of the system,” Mr Duffy said.

    “Services such as ATSILS actually save the justice system a significant amount of money”.
    Mr Duffy said that in some areas of Australia, ATSILS are the only legal assistance service available and if funding is cut, the justice system in these areas will simply grind to a halt.

    “If ATSILS are forced to cut services people will be left to face court without any advice or representation, something which is meant to be a basic right protected in Australia,” Mr Duffy said.
    “having individuals attend court without representation will clog already heavy court lists, cause catastrophic interruptions to the justice system and arguably increase the likelihood of people going to jail and the perpetuation of the cycle of over-incarceration.”

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