19 May 2023

Aboriginal Legal Service freezes work in Eden due to 'unprecedented crisis'

| Albert McKnight
Start the conversation
Justice system.

The Aboriginal Legal Service has frozen its criminal law services at 13 sites in NSW. Photo: Sang Hyun Cho, Pixabay.

A lack of Federal Government funding has forced the Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) to halt its criminal law assistance in Eden, as well as at more than 10 other sites around the state.

The ALS froze its services at Eden Local Court earlier this week, saying it was forced into the decision because of a significant increase in demand which it cannot continue meeting with insufficient government funding.

“We are facing an unprecedented crisis caused by the systemic undervaluing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services by government,” the CEO of ALS NSW/ACT, Karly Warner, said.

“This has been a long time coming, but now we have reached a precipice.

“We simply can’t continue delivering more services with fewer resources.”

At Eden, the frozen services the ALS had offered were information, advice, referral and representation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) people, both adults and children, facing criminal charges.

But the town is not alone, as the ALS has also had to freeze criminal law services in a total of 13 local courts across NSW.

READ ALSO Calling all good sports – volunteers needed to keep South Coast Special Olympics Club on the road

The ALS had flagged this as a possibility in April 2023, when it announced it was facing a crisis and called for urgent funding relief from the Commonwealth Government.

“Demand for our services has almost doubled since 2018, but our core Federal Government funding has decreased in real terms,” an ALS spokesperson said at the time.

“This means we are being pushed harder than ever before.”

The spokesperson said the service would still do all it could to ensure ATSI people with criminal law matters listed in the 13 courts received legal help from another provider, such as Legal Aid NSW.

The ALS, along with all other ATSI Legal Services across Australia, called for a $250 million emergency support package in this month’s Federal Budget to prevent or reverse service freezes in multiple locations.

However, this request was not met.

“Our hope is that Government comes through with the crisis funding we need, and these service freezes are minimal and temporary,” Ms Warner said.

READ ALSO Desperate Cobargo couple reach out for community help after Green Magic Home con

A spokesperson for Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said the Federal Government was committed to working in partnership with ATSI people to achieve better justice outcomes.

“The current National Legal Assistance Partnership ends on 30 June 2025, and an independent review of the agreement is commencing this year,” the spokesperson said.

“The review is an opportunity to examine the adequacy of funding and ensure the legal assistance sector is best equipped to deal with current and future challenges.”

The spokesperson said the first Albanese Budget included $99 million to fund a historic First Nations Justice Package.

This includes $13.5 million in additional funding to ATSILS to increase their capacity to provide culturally appropriate legal assistance in coronial inquiries and $1 million to build greater capacity in the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services.

Start the conversation

Daily Digest

Do you like to know what’s happening around your region? Every day the About Regional team packages up our most popular stories and sends them straight to your inbox for free. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.