More Aboriginal people will be denied access to proper legal help if funding cuts of $1.2 million go ahead in the May federal budget.
That’s the warning issued on Tuesday by the Aboriginal Legal Service in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory.
ALS chairman and Walbunga elder Bunja Smith said he was deeply concerned at a six per cent reduction in the ALS’s operating budget.
“At a time when Aboriginal people make up over 27 percent of Australia’s prison population and growing numbers of Aboriginal children are being taken into child protection, it’s alarming that the government is slashing this vital funding for our community legal services,” Mr Smith said.
“The ALS is already struggling to keep up with the demand for legal services from Aboriginal men, women and children, particularly from those in remote and regional communities where often there are no lawyers.
“But further cuts to our funding streams will inevitably force us to employ less lawyers and cut the level of legal support services to communities right across NSW and the ACT.”
Mr Smith said fewer lawyers would mean more Aboriginal people would appear in court unrepresented and were more likely to be imprisoned.
“It’s widely acknowledged that there’s an over-representation of Aboriginal children in the criminal justice system already, which is why we need adequate levels of funding to deliver legal services that keep our children out of courtrooms and in classrooms,” he said.
“We are extremely concerned that the government’s funding cuts will mean that more Aboriginal men, women and children end up behind bars, with families torn apart and children taken into child protection.
“We need to urgently put an end to this crisis of Aboriginal incarceration and family breakdowns by implementing sustainable services and programs that are underpinned by adequate levels of funding.”
Mr Smith said the ALS would continue to campaign for the funding cuts to be reversed as part of its pre-budget submission to the government.
By Wendy Caccetta