Government must increase legal assistance for Indigenous people, WA Law Society says
The Law Society of Western Australia has called for the government to use upcoming negotiations to address legal assistance funding for Indigenous law programs.
The Law Society said the state and Commonwealth government should be working to preserve separate funding under the Indigenous Legal Assistance Program (ILAP) for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (ATSILS).
Law Society president Greg McIntyre SC said: “The additional legal assistance funding set aside by the Commonwealth government does not come close to addressing the $310 million a year shortfall identified by Law Council of Australia’s Justice Project.”
The Commonwealth government allocated less than $20 million in additional funding for legal assistance services in the 2019-20 budget. The Law Society said it is also proposing the ILAP and National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services (NPA) be replaced by a single funding mechanism.
The Law Society added the negotiations would provide an opportunity for governments to ensure the preservation of ILAP, ensure predictable funding, increase funding for the legal assistance sector and removal of impediments to law reform.
“The proposed arrangements are contrary to the 2018 government-commissioned independent review, which found that ATSILS provide cost-effective, high-quality, culturally appropriate and accessible services that a standalone ILPA must be maintained,” the Law Society of Western Australia said.
It added the Commonwealth government’s plan “undercuts the key reason” the ILAP was established to recognise that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people need access to specialised, culturally competent legal services they know and trust.
“Vulnerable Australians will continue to face significant barriers to justice until more legal assistance funding is allocated,” Mr McIntyre said.