THE AUSTRALIAN Capital Territory’s Aboriginal Legal Service is headed for a “great blow” unless the Federal Government’s tender processes are revised, according to the Territory’s chief minister Jon Stanhope.
Following the Howard Government’s decision to abolish ATSIC, centralising the Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) was yet another blow to Indigenous representation, Stanhope said.
“We are witnessing a very disturbing pattern of disenfranchisement and legal exclusion.”
The new tender process will leave the community in Canberra with an inadequate, centralised service coming out of Sydney, he said, “possibly through a private law firm lacking necessary cultural sensitivities and with little or no concern for local needs”.
The ACT Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committee officially advised Stanhope that legal services from Sydney would be inappropriate and ineffective, he said.
Stanhope called on the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, Amanda Vanstone, to “grab hold of the opportunity for the ACT to have dedicated Aboriginal legal services”.
Howard and Vanstone could not look the other way on this matter of justice, he said. “Canberra’s Aboriginal and Torres Straight islander community deserve better.”
The ACT Government supports the creation of a Commonwealth funded ATSI Legal Aid service in the Territory. The Indigenous community deserved the same quality of access to legal representation as existed elsewhere in Australia, Stanhope said.
Legal services in the ACT are currently serviced by the South Eastern Aboriginal Legal Service (SEALS), however its primary focus is on the Indigenous communities of the NSW South Coast, the chief minister claimed. The ACT community was served by a sub-office in Canberra.
“The SEALS office in Canberra has always been significantly under resourced,” Stanhope said. “If we lose this office as a result of Minister Vanstone’s tendering process, the mainstream ACT Legal Aid Offices … are likely to suffer an even bigger burden than they do already.”