The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (NATSILS) has urged Croakey readers to support the #JusticeByUs campaign fighting funding threats to community-controlled Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services.
Cheryl Axleby, a proud Narungga woman and co-chair of NATSILS, writes below that this year’s NAIDOC theme, Voice, Treaty, Truth, is timely considering the Federal Government is planning to disband the Indigenous Legal Assistance Program, and mainstream Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (ATSILS) funding.
Cheryl Axleby writes:
This year, we celebrate the appointment of our very first Aboriginal Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt.
Over the last eight months we have also celebrated the Prime Minister listening to the voices of National Aboriginal Community Controlled Peak Organisations with respect to Closing the Gap.
For the first time ever, we as National Aboriginal peak organisations will be sitting as equals with the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) to co-design and to drive the Closing the Gap agenda for the next decade.
All the above gives us good reason to celebrate, but as always, whilst we celebrate, we are quickly brought back to reality. Whilst one hand of government is giving, the other hand is taking away.
Minister Ken Wyatt’s historic speech at the National Press Club this week spoke of a government committed to listening, walking together and supporting strong community voices. Ken spoke of inequality, the need for healing and the devastating rates of youth suicide in our communities, issues that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (ATSILS) know all too well. Our services deal with the fall-out of inequality each and every day and our communities rely upon our services to do so.
While listening to Ken I was busy launching #JusticeByUs, because this NAIDOC week, the Government is planning to disband the standalone Indigenous Legal Assistance Program that funds ATSILS and protects our community-control.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (ATSILS) are proudly community-controlled. Our communities have a right to know about issues that affect the future of our services, and that’s where #JusticeByUs comes in, calling on the Federal Government to maintain standalone funding for ATSILS.
The Indigenous Legal Assistance Program supports self-determined, culturally safe Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, which are critical to ending the mass incarceration of our people. Mainstreaming legal services’ funding will see more of our aunties, uncles and children pushed into the quicksand of the justice system by a system that punishes poverty.
We are grateful for the solidarity shown by the community-controlled sector and our supporters who are taking action for #JusticeByUs.
Over 100 legal, health, disability, social justice and human rights organisations are standing behind our call to retain the ILAP, signing an open letter to the Federal Government on the issue.
We are not the only group calling for standalone funding; a government-commissioned independent review of ILAP found that ATSILS are cost effective, efficient, culturally safe and the preferred legal services providers of Indigenous communities alongside Family Violence Prevention Legal Services. The first recommendation of the review advised the Government to continue to deliver our funding through a standalone, specific purpose funding program.
This year’s NAIDOC theme is about empowerment of our peoples through Voice, Treaty and Truth-telling, yet the Federal Government’s plans to abolish the Indigenous Legal Assistance Program threatens crucial services that promote the community empowerment and that lies at the heart of the essential services ATSILS provide to communities day in, day out.
If this Government is really serious about respectfully working in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and peak bodies, it will seriously reconsider its disbanding of the ILAP program.
• Cheryl Axleby is a proud Narungga woman and co-chair of NATSILS