Government must not go ahead with cuts to Aboriginal Legal Services

Blogs, Indigenous Australia article written on the 18 Dec 2013

Oxfam Australia is concerned at reports the Federal Government is set to defund the peak National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (NATSILS) and all law reform and policy officer positions in affiliates across the country today.

The $13.4 million of cuts would mean the appalling over-representation of incarcerated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is likely to get worse.

Oxfam Australia’s Indigenous Policy Advisor, Andrew Meehan, said we need improved funding for Aboriginal Legal Aid services, not cuts.

“Aboriginal people are locked up at 15 times the rate of non-Indigenous Australians. We’ve seen a rise in the rates of incarceration for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of 50 per cent in the past 10 years compared to 5 per cent  for the rest of the population.” said Mr Meehan.

“The national peak and related positions help make the system more effective, efficient, less costly and can actually save money in the long run.”

Quick facts
  • Despite making up less than three per cent of the overall Australian population, Indigenous people make up 40 per cent of those imprisoned.
  • Rates of over-representation are even higher in juvenile detention, with a 10-17 year old Indigenous person being around 24 times more likely to be in detention than a non-Indigenous person of the same age.
  • The over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the criminal justice system has been linked to social and economic disadvantage including high levels of poverty; poor education outcomes and high rates of unemployment.

During the 2013 election campaign, the Coalition made a strong and welcome commitment to reduce Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander disadvantage. Tony Abbott should deliver on his pledge to be the ‘Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs’ by:

  • Reversing government cuts to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services
  • Working with the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services to address high rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander incarceration as a matter of priority.