SPURRED ON by recent changes to the provision of legal aid to Indigenous Australians, legal professionals have been questioning how the new commercial tender system will work. At the Legal Aid Congress recently, this matter was explained and assessed.
Legal Aid Queensland’s Integrated Indigenous Strategy coordinator Helena Wright said at the Legal Aid Congress 2004, at which two sessions were dedicated to Indigenous legal services, that the recent changes had caused some confusion about the current legal aid situation in the country.
“Indigenous leaders, community legal centres, legal aid commissions, private practitioners … I think everyone is uncertain abut how this new system is going to successfully ensure Indigenous people’s legal needs are met,” Wright said.
The tendering of legal services for Indigenous Australians officially began with the Federal Government’s call for tenders in Victoria and Western Australia. Tendered services in both states are expected to begin in July next year.
But there was limited consultation with the community about the tendering process, according to Wright. The Congress therefore attempted to provide stakeholders with an opportunity to voice their concerns and opinions, including that tendering firms do not have to be an Indigenous organisation nor are they required to employ Indigenous staff.
Stakeholders also questioned whether safeguards should be put in place to ensure tenderers can provide culturally sensitive legal services, Wright said.