The Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) has today indicated that they are collapsing under chronic underfunding and increasing demand for services through legislative changes that are seeing more and more First Nations people requiring legal representation.
The ALS is funded through a joint Federal and State funding agreement, but the actual contributions by the NSW Government to the ALS are far from meeting federal contributions or from meeting the increasing demand for ALS services.
The Greens have committed to a $2.5 million per year funding increase for the ALS and introducing a justice impact test that will require any new legislation to consider monetary impacts on legal assistance services and adjust funding to appropriately respond to the predicted impact.
Greens Upper House candidate and First Nations activist Lynda-June Coe: “The government has failed to address the needs of critical services such as the ALS who are operating at a capacity not fit to meet the surge of incarcerated First Nations people across the state.”
“Under the current funding model the ALS and other Aboriginal organisations working to reduce the overrepresentation of our people in the criminal justice system is inadequate and ineffective - if the incoming government is serious about addressing First Nations justice, increased resourcing is essential.”
“The Greens are the only party committed to ensuring government is held to account and listening to the needs of essential services such as the ALS with a commitment to increasing funding of 2.5 million per year moving forward.”
Greens spokesperson for First Nations justice Sue Higginson said: “The ALS does critical work in ensuring First Nations people in NSW are represented in the justice system in the best way possible. The underfunding of this service has dire flow on impacts to First Nations people and communities.
“In 2021-22 we saw more First Nations deaths in custody than any other year since recording began. To turn this crisis around we need to be ensuring First Nations people aren’t ending up in prison in the first place. The work of the ALS is vital to this so it needs to be funded on a needs basis.
“The Greens are committed to ensuring the next government adequately funds this important service.” Ms Higginson said.
Andrew Hegedus, ALS member Grafton said: “The NSW ALS has been calling for more funding for years. The NSW Government needs to ‘step up’, and undertake a full analysis of the workload and operations of the ALS and provide appropriate funding to assist with the delivery of its core services.
“For various reasons the ALS closed its fully staffed Grafton office and set up a satellite office instead. Now the ALS services in Grafton are predominately solicitors turning up to a courthouse... When the office was operating fully in the Clarence Valley, we had solicitors there, field officers there, localised management and a place where people from out of town could call in and have a cup of tea and talk with staff. That doesn’t happen now… It’s not just about lawyers at the court door, it’s about First Nations field officers and local administrative staff and preventative action and listening to community voices on the ground. Grafton has one of the largest correctional facilities in Australia located in the area'.
For media comment contact
Sue Higginson | 0428 227 363
Lynda-June Coe | Maddie Hayman-Reber | 0404 935 157
Sue Higginson | 0428 227 363 | Greens NSW MLC