Today Attorney-General George Brandis announced that scheduled funding cuts to community legal services, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services, won’t go ahead. This means that $55 million will be allocated to maintaining community legal services over the next three years, including $16.7 million for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services.
This decision is a welcome relief, and a credit to the organisations and community groups who fought for this change. However, legal services will still be chronically underfunded, which has a particular impact on Indigenous women, children and men, who may not be able to access legal services at all. Insufficient legal support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people only worsens the drastic overrepresentation of Indigenous people within the justice system. At present, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up one in 50 Australians, but one in four prisoners.
The decision not to cut funds is not the same as providing the urgent additional funding that these services desperately need. We’re reiterating our calls to the Government to boost funding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services and Family Violence Prevention Legal Services to sustainable and adequate levels.
Until this happens, more and more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, children and men will be separated from their families and communities through the justice system.
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