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Law associations sign on to saving Indigenous legal assistance program
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Law associations sign on to saving Indigenous legal assistance program

Andrew Christopoulos

Major law associations are joining an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander national peak body to call for a legal assistance program to be retained.

During NAIDOC Week, the Australian Lawyers Association and the Human Rights Law Centre have joined over 100 organisations across sectors in signing a letter addressed to the federal government to retain the Indigenous Legal Assistance Program (ILAP).

Cheryl Axleby, co-chair of National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (NATSILS), said: “At a time when we are the most incarcerated people in the world, there is clear, demonstrated support for the government to maintain its commitment to self-determined ATSILS by retaining the ILAP.”

The open letter, signed by legal, health, social justice and human rights organisations, will call for the federal budget decision to be overturned after the 2019–20 budget did not include the ILAP in favour of a mainstreamed national mechanism.

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ALA national president Andrew Christopoulos said if plans proceed, “the government will be responsible for exacerbating the legal injustices and mass incarcerations being experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

“We must stand together to ensure ATSILS can continue to provide vital legal services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities,” he said.

HRLC legal director Ruth Barson said the government will need to show its support for self-determination and the right of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and organisations to be in control.

“The Morrison government should not walk away from the standalone funding program designed for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal organisations to address the disadvantage,” Mr Barson said.

“Community-controlled services are critical to ending racial discrimination. We must stand together to ensure ATSILS can continue to provide vital legal services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.”

These calls are supported by an independent review of ILAP which recommended that the Commonwealth funding should be delivered through a separate, standalone and specific program that would directly fund ATSILS and NATSILS.

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