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NT Aboriginal justice agency welcomes new chairperson

Dechlan Brennan -

The Northern Territory's leading Aboriginal justice agency has announced changes to its board after a difficult period which has seen the organisation struggle to fill roles and temporarily cease taking on new clients in Central Australia. 

The North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) announced on Wednesday Arrernte descendant Hugh Woodbury would be stepping into the role of chairperson, replacing Colleen Rosas, who will remain as deputy chair. 

The changes are in accordance with the organisation's constitution, which requires a change of chairperson every three years. 

Born and raised in Mparntwe/Alice Springs, Mr Woodbury has extensive experience in both the legal and community sectors. He previously worked as an Indigenous family liaison officer for the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia and as a welfare rights officer for the Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service (CAALAS).

Mr Woodbury said he was honoured to be appointed chair of NAAJA, noting it was an organisation with a long and proud history of helping and delivering essential services for Indigenous people in the NT. 

“Being born and bred in Alice Springs, I care deeply about what is happening in our town and our region right now and see NAAJA having a critical role to play in fighting for just outcomes for Aboriginal people, for whom over-policing and discriminatory policies have directly contributed to mass incarceration,” he said. 

“The NAAJA board has achieved a great deal under Colleen’s leadership, particularly in recent months in establishing an effective workforce capacity strategy so we can continue to provide high-quality and culturally sensitive legal representation for our clients.”

Mr Woodbury added he was pleased the legal organisation would continue to benefit from Ms Rosas’ involvement in the organisation. 

Ms Rosas was complimentary of the “unique perspective” Mr Woodbury would bring to NAAJA, arguing he was “young, smart, and passionate about empowering Aboriginal communities".

“He’s currently studying arts and business on a scholarship and this experience will only add to the knowledge and expertise he brings to his new role,” she said.

Ms Rosas also highlighted the “extremely challenging” period at NAAJA over the last year, which saw services escalate and “some tough decisions to be made".

These challenges included unproven allegations of financial mismanagement, along with staffing issues. The latter resulted in the organisation being unable to take on any new clients for several months before reopening their Youth Court practice in Mparntwe/Alice Springs in March. 

They have also faced regular calls by conservative politicians, including NT Senator and opposition Indigenous affairs spokesperson Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, to be shut down. 

Ms Rosas said NAAJA was delivering on their workforce action plan, which was evidenced by the re-opening of new client intake in Central Australia. 

“The NAAJA board remains committed to continuing to bolster our ranks with the best and brightest legal minds and support workers,” she said.

The organisation have been vocal about their support for Indigenous children in the NT, including criticising the Territory government for their ongoing youth curfew in Mparntwe/Alice Springs and the continued operation of Don Dale youth detention facility. 

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